"Where Will All the Nurses Go?"

By Luanne Pennesi, RN, MS
Feature Article  from Revolution Magazine
Winter 1997

As the HMO's, the AMA and the FDA continue to put a band-aid on an already self perpetuating , illness focused "health care system", they look at who (besides physicians and pharmacists) can they eliminate from the system that is costing them too much.  The answer?  Those people who probably taught the doctors how to actualize their knowledge in the clinical setting:  the Registered Nurses of the community.  And what can we replace them with?  Well, the medical orthodoxy has historically treated the RN's within our institutions as subordinates.  They pick up their orders, they're the scapegoats when things go wrong, and the technocrats who can manage machines, give out medications and get them data.  So why can't we train less expensive people to do the same tasks and get away with it by doing competency check lists?  The issue becomes the fact the they can and so they do.  And so nurses are fast becoming members of the unemployed and disenfranchised...and many of them are exploring Wholistic Nursing as a rewarding, viable career option.

While there are many physicians who recognize and appreciate the role of the nurse in traditional settings, the Medical Profession is making a loud statement about their limited understanding and appreciation of the RN's education, capabilities and practical experience.  Now being a nurse myself and involved with traditional medicine for 19 years I can also tell you without hesitation that nurses that work within these systems are the very products of their fear based upbringings.  They fear being fired, they don't want to rock the boat, they know they have to play by the rules in order to get the rewards and they truly believe that there is no other option for them but to remain under the thumb of hospital administrations that recently have shown that they neither respect them as professionals nor care for them as individuals.  Not quite what Florence Nightingale had in mind.

Now you can say, "Oh, the nurses cost themselves right out of the profession during the nursing shortage of the eighties" or "If the profession can't defend itself, it deserves to be replaced", but those are the rationalizations of those who think that if they find a reason for it, then that it can serve as a good enough excuse to let it go on.  Well, I believe that removing ourselves from the fear based, hierarchical chains of  the hospitals that no longer support us is the best thing that ever happened to our profession.  It is forcing us to get tough and apply what we know... or get out.

I'll tell you why.  In nursing school we learn about the body (biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology, genetics and nutrition to name a few), the mind (such as human development, psychology, psychiatry, human sexuality, sociology) and the spirit or soul (courses like anthropology, philosophy, religion, cultural aspects of caregiving).   Other than involvement in an occasional clinical emergency, what we actually apply in hospital settings are delegation, priority setting, documentation, legalities of how to protect our licenses ("CYA 101"), how to control our patients so we don't get written up, fear of making medication errors, how to break into the unit based social circles in order to be accepted by our peers and how to get in good with the attending physicians in case we need a free prescription or some medical advice.  We learn to live in denial of our own needs (you've seen them- the martyrs who will perform submissively until they're exhausted and then they justify getting sick), we learn to react defensively ( the whining, complaining, blaming victims) or we get angry ( which usually gets us in trouble for "inappropriate behavior in the patient care setting").  Now I'm not suggesting that all nurses are treated this way and react this way, because there are a few of us who have retained our self respect and dignity and have learned to suppress our anger and play by the rules in order to get the rewards of the pay check, the paid for professional programs and the holiday/vacation time.  It's as if that is the reason we stay in the dysfunctional environment.  Unfortunately, we all have bills to pay.

There are alternatives, though, and I believe the nursing profession is facing the proverbial music.  The first thing to consider is the fact that there IS room for our profession outside of the hospital walls, even though we may not realize it.  The trick is to create a niche for yourself that meets a need in the community.  More and more people are becoming disgruntled and disillusioned with the results (or lack of results) of the medical profession.  The years of research that cost us billions of tax dollars have resulted in practically no advances in the areas of extending the quality and quantity of life.  And that includes cancer, heart disease and AIDS.  And chronic illnesses are still considered "incurable".  Quite frankly, our health care system doesn't even promote HEALTH!  Doctors become proficient at ILLNESS.  It's what they learn in Medical School (nutrition is an elective!) and hey, it's what pay THEIR bills, so they have incentive to work within this system that supports them so well.  The AMA and FDA would go bankrupt if people didn't depend on medications and doctor visits to stay alive (notice I didn't say 'healthy').  So as people become more skeptical of traditional health care institutions, they become more curious about other ways to approach their health and manage their illnesses.                                                      

Enter the RN who dares to apply her knowledge of the inter-relatedness of the Mind, the Body and the Spirit.  Yeah, the stuff we learned so well in nursing school but never were able to apply.  In its most recent lingo, it's called WHOLISTIC NURSING and it's fast becoming the rave in modern day health care (notice I used the word 'health').

Wholistic nurses are living role models of what they practice and teach to their patients.  They have made the choice to see beyond the tunnel vision of illness as a normal part of aging ("when the abnormal becomes common it is accepted as normal") and they consider the incredible power of the human mind to affect the physiology of the body.  They consider that the person's feeling of meaningfulness in life and their self esteem have something to do with how healthy or sick they are.  Instead of the nurse dictating to the patient what they "should" do, this breed of professionals gives the patient full responsibility for choosing what will help them to heal themselves.  They do this via education about prevention and providing other options besides medication, surgery or radiation to treat their illnesses.  They worry less about liability because the various modalities they offer have no harmful side effects, don't have risks and don't cost alot of money in comparison to the exorbitant bills we pay to the orthodoxy. And, most importantly, the patient assumes responsibility for his or her own choices regarding health.  HMO's...pay attention!  The people who are employing nontraditional modalities are staying healthier, leading happier, more productive lives and staying out of hospitals.  And their numbers are growing exponentially.  As are the number of RN's who are exploring lucrative careers in Wholistic Nursing.  

The next and obvious question becomes, "What do wholistic nurses DO, anyway?"  Well, although this may sound like an "us vs. them" approach, I want to be clear about the fact that many traditional medical modalities are both necessary and beneficial to patients in some instances.  I also believe that there is a place for the wholistic nurse within hospital walls (but not until quality of care comes back into the picture).  What I find arrogant is the fact that the Medical Profession, because of their strong political lobby and control of  about 80% of the media, can and does control what the American Public sees and accepts as acceptable Medical Care.  Obviously it is not what promotes health and well being- not by a long shot.  And the heads of these institutional pillars weren't even voted in by the American Public!  These folks were appointed by those who were sure they would promote the perpetuation of illness and the need for medications !  So much for democracy.  My vision is to have the American Public understand that each one of us is a unique creation that can respond to various combinations of approaches to health and illness in order to maximize our potentials as beings with incredible energies at our disposal.  And sometimes that may include medications, surgery and/or radiation.  Most times it will not.

In my last five years as a Wholistic RN I have witnessed healing of the human body way beyond my conditioned belief systems and my imagination.  People with cancer become cancer free.  People who are HIV+ become HIV-.  People with arthritis become free of the crippling effects of the disease.  Seizures, allergies, multiple sclerosis, upper respiratory infections, chronic wounds from PVD and chronic bedrest, to name a few...all reversed.  Yes.  Reversed.  People are living happy, functional, meaningful lives after they utilize wholistic modalities.  Heart disease can be totally reversed instead of just having a few symptoms temporarily relieved ( 85% of those who have angioplasties and open heart surgeries require repeat operations because traditional surgeries do not get to the root cause of the disease) via intravenous chelation therapy that RN's often supervise and administer..  Oh yes, and these modalities are WELL DOCUMENTED IN THE SCIENTIFIC LITERATURE.  The problem is that the peer review journals who are primarily supported by orthodox medicine don't want the public or their disciple MD's to catch wind of these breakthroughs.  Admittedly, not all of the modalities use the stuff American "science" is made of.  And yet they work.  And it's not the rare, bizarre, idiopathic reversal of the disease that medicine speaks to.

The core of Wholism considers that man is an energy system, much like the physics we learn in college.  He is electrical energy, biochemical energy, physical energy, psychic energy, kinesthetic energy, emotional energy and osmotic energy.  When one considers that healing can occur on all these planes
and once all of them are in balance, the human being will be healthy, then we go beyond the mere biophysical realm of medicine that our current health care paradigm functions in.  So when the wholistic practitioner works with a patient, he/she will look closely at all of these energy systems and layout the various options that the patient has for healing themselves.  And all of us know what is best for us on a very deep, subconscious level.  Now admittedly, the bleak statistics show that fully 25% of the American population believe that they actually deserve to be sick (a reflection of very low self esteem and a guilt ridden
upbringing), 50% give the responsibility for their health to the physician to "fix" them and actually live to "please" their MD by doing what they say (a reflection of  not wanting to take responsibility for their own health, lest they fail- also the result of social conditioning/upbringing), and now a growing 25% of the population is learning to take their power back, seeing that our health care system is really NOT looking out for their best interest all the time...and they are exploring all of the other methods that are available to them (at an affordable price!) to help them help themselves.  And when they heal themselves, the self esteem soars.  The question then becomes, what comes first, high enough self esteem to take responsibility for your health or healing as a result of wholistic modalities?  It's actually a little of both.  Some people get so fed up with the side effects of traditional medicine and their lack of progress that they seek these nontraditional modalities and others begin the path of self actualization ( with all the materials that are available and "en vogue" these days) and as their esteem rises, so does their abilities to make better choices about how to best manage their health.

With these concepts in mind, I will share with you just a few of the modalities that wholistic RN's practice and teach:

  1. Stress Management and Self Esteem Building:  When stress, change and conflict are seen as opportunities for growth instead of a threat; and when the person realizes that 99% of their life is in their heads...and all they can really control is what's IN there...then they begin to let go of past negative habit patterns and create newer, healthier habit patterns, take full responsibility for their behavior and their health and clearly make better choices in life.  This  includes relaxation techniques and the power of daily meditation.

  2. Healing Touch:  An energy based therapeutic approach to healing which uses touch to influence the energy system thus affecting physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health and healing.  Includes the well known modality of Therapeutic Touch, developed by Dolores Krieger.

  3. Nutritional counseling:  We know that our cells require certain nutrients in order to function maximally.  When we eliminate known allergens and carcinogens from the diet such as meat, dairy products, pesticides, animal hormones and antibiotics, pollution, preservatives, chemicals used to process foods and toxic household chemicals (to name a few), it is amazing how quickly the body responds with incredible energy, a strong immune system and a greatly retarded aging process.  Most of us need to detoxify our bodies first, then provide it with the building blocks of energy that it requires to work on our behalf.  Vitamins, supplements and environmental practices are reviewed as well.
  4. Imagery:  The thought process that invokes and uses the senses:  vision, audition, smell, taste, the senses of movement, position and touch.  It is the communication mechanism between perception, emotion and bodily change.  It is the stuff of the imagination, which is a very powerful and profound healing tool.

  5. Biofeedback:  A treatment technique in which people are trained to improve their health by using signals from their own bodies with the use of biofeedback machines.  This has helped patients with strokes, high blood pressure, headaches and chronic pain, as well as many other conditions.
  6. Visualization:  The use of your imagination to transform vague dreams into vivid realities.  It can help destroy bacteria and viruses, reduce tumors, heal broken bones and restore organic function in any part of the body.

  7. Massage:  Several physical manipulation techniques to help relax, balance and heal the body.  Many RN's have sought another license in this area, since much of our healing intuitively comes from touch.

  8. Oriental Medicine:  Includes acupuncture (application of fine needles in well defined energy points on the body), AMMA therapy (an oriental technique utilizing massaging, kneading, stroking of the energy channels of the body), acupressure (like acupuncture without the needles, using finger pressure instead), reflexology (compression foot and hand massage used to stimulate internal organs and circulation), T'ai Chi, Qi Gong, Yoga (all are specialized movement therapies for the body) and Oriental herbology (using specific plants to heal), to name a few. Combining Eastern and Western modalities has had an enormously positive effect on many diseases.

  9. Other forms of Energy Medicine:  Reiki (laying on of hands to relieve energy blockages), Hypnotherapy, Avatar (a self evolvement course based on principles of consciousness) and Mindfulness Meditation are some examples.  Often a consultation by a wholistic RN can provide the patient with enough information to help them 'gravitate' towards what will work for them.

Administration of nontraditional intravenous therapies:  High dose Vitamin C infusions, Chelation therapy and IV ozone therapies are being performed both in Healing Centers run by Wholistic physicians and in the patients' homes.  The RN can provide a traditional skill and wholistic education to the patient.
These are just a few examples of what wholistic RN's practice.  There are specific programs that the RN could attend in order to ascertain her own niche in Wholistic Nursing.  The American Holistic Nursing Association can provide several programs, or checking publications in your local health food store would be a start.  The core of all of these programs is that the RN cannot help others until he or she learns to care for and nurture him/herself first.  What a concept!

As you can see, there is a wide open field of practice for professional registered nurses to study and practice other than within the walls of our current, rather shaky, health care system.  With the changing health care paradigm nurses have the opportunity to create a new place in the community while the general public actively seeks new ways to approach health and illness.  It is up to us as autonomous practitioners to reclaim our personal and professional power and dignity and get back to practicing the very stuff we came out of nursing school with:  a sacred respect for the human being as an interrelated mind, body and spirit.  Wholistic Nursing is a growing, lucrative and viable alternative to working within the current traditional health care system. There are several other career opportunities for nurses outside of the walls of inpatient settings and home care besides Wholistic Nursing.   My bet is that THIS is where many nurses may go. 

If you are interested in learning where you might obtain more information about programs for nurses who want to become more involved with Wholistic Nursing, call The American Holistic Nurses' Association at 919-787-5181, The New Center for Wholistic Health, Education and Research at 516-496-7766,  Holistic Nursing Associates at 212-969-0381, or Luanne Pennesi at Wholistic Nursing Networks at 516-921-8475. 

Luanne Pennesi, RN,,MS is the Executive Director and Founder Of Wholistic Nursing Networks, a revolutionary new company dedicated to expanding the awareness of the general public about health care options other than what traditional health care offers us in order to maximize our health and raise our self esteems.  Through individual consultation and public speaking, these RN's are catalysts for self realization and vehicles for positive, deliberate decision making in a fast paced, rapidly changing world  filled with stress and potential for illness.


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