Write On, Wednesday: Meet Alexandra Robbins of THE NURSES: A Year with the Heroes Behind the Hospital Curtain

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By Leslie Lindsay

Happy National Nurses Week! As many of you know, I’m a former R.N.-turned-book-enthusiast. Wait—I’ve always loved books. So when the combination of one of the world’s most vital—and dangerous—professions pairs with investigative journalism, I’m all over it. We’re super-lucky to have New York Times Bestselling author Alexandra Robbins (former credits include PLEDGED, THE OVERACHIEVERS, THE GEEKS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH, and others) here to celebrate nurses and answer a few questions.

Leslie Lindsay: First of all—thanks so much for being with us today, Alexandra! I practically devoured THE NURSES. It’s lively, well-paced, and a stunning portrayal of life as an R.N. I have to ask how you conceived the idea of writing about nurses—do you come from a family of medical professionals? Did you dream of being a nurse yourself? What was the seed of inspiration?

Alexandra Robbins: Actually, I don’t have any background in medicine or family with medical credentials, which makes this book different because it’s written by a complete outsider-turned-insider. I wrote the book because nurses had been asking me for years to write it. They wanted a book that represented their voices – and told their secrets – in a way that is fun for the general public to read. They said they wanted their story told in my beach-read kind of style. When they started telling me their stories, I was hooked.

L.L.: This is a book I feel is so important for so many reasons: nursing (and medicine in general) tends to be glamorized in movies and television shows like ER and Gray’s Anatomy, but the truth is, it’s a pretty dangerous job (mentally/physically/emotionally)—nurse-to-nurse bullying, doctors berating nurses, and patients attacking/assaulting nurses—was this a surprise to you as you dug into the ugly underbelly of the profession, or something you suspected all along?

Alexandra Robbins: Oh, I had no idea what actually went on behind the curtain. I was continually shocked by what the nurses had to say. Nursing is the third most dangerous profession in the country – and the violence is preventable, but nurses are rarely protected! That’s bananas. It was astonishing to me that people who are such compassionate heroes are subjected to so many unnecessary hardships. I think it comes down to respect; there needs to be more of an awareness of just how vital nurses are so that the profession gets the respect and appreciation it deserves.

L.L.: Even so, many nurses identify “a calling” to go into the profession. Can you describe some of your experiences with nurses who had that particular calling?

Alexandra Robbins: Most nurses have that calling, I think. I asked nurses repeatedly why they put up with so much, and what they told me really captured my heart. They said, “Nursing isn’t just a job. It’s who I am.” Nurses generally see themselves as people whose purpose is to help, to heal, to comfort, to teach, to connect. I can’t say enough about what incredible people they are.

L.L.: I’m recommending everyone in the health profession read this book. I think it’s super-important for those considering a career as a nurse, those already in the trenches of care-giving, and yes—even doctors, paramedics, just about anyone who works side-by-side with an R.N. needs to know exactly the struggles and triumphs we endure. What is it you hope others glean from THE NURSES?

Alexandra Robbins: Thank you! I hope readers come away with a strong respect and deep gratitude for nurses and a resolve to treat them like gold. The nurses and I also hope readers remember the secrets/tips we included to help patients and their loved ones get better hospital care, because in some cases that advice could be life-saving. And I think you’re right – if medical schools required students to read The Nurses, for example, then future physicians would have a much better understanding, and hopefully, empathy, of their teammates.

L.L.: Thanks again for being with us today—we so enjoyed it! And for those of you out there saving lives day in and day out—we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Alexandra Robbins: Thank you for spreading the message that nurses are heroes!

Alexandra Robbins is also the author of Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities and The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids. She says that in high school she was a "floater."Bio: Winner of the 2014 John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism, Alexandra Robbins is the author of four New York Times bestsellers, including PLEGED and THE OVERACHIEVERS. Her previous book, THE GEEKS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH, was voted GoodReads “Best Non-fiction Book of the Year.” She has written for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and other publications, and has appeared on numerous television shows, from 60 Minutes to Oprah, to The Colbert Report.

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