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An Unfair Policy Led to My Advocacy for All Nurses to Use Their Voices



Popular YouTuber Nurse Blake may be known for posting videos that poke fun at nurse life and giving nurses some comic relief in the process, but he has also supported nurses and his patients in other significant ways.

I've always been a caregiver, so going into the nursing profession was a no-brainer for me. I come from a family of medical professionals and grew up with strong ties to the medical community, but I also love to make people laugh! Nursing gives me the best of both worlds: I treat patients physically, but I also connect with them on a human level. And I have the opportunity to get know people's stories and learn more about my patients, peers, and the nursing community at large. As a nurse, I meet people wherever they are in life. I care for the whole person -- mental, emotional, physical -- in whatever capacity they need. That's what makes it so rewarding. And my career has afforded me the opportunity to give back outside hospital walls as well.

Discriminatory Ban Awakens My Inner Advocate

In 2013, I started a movement to change an outdated policy that imposed restrictions on life-saving blood donations. What began as my own personal story became a nationwide campaign for equality and advocacy. When I was in nursing school, a friend of mine started missing classes for weeks at a time. Of course, I was concerned and checked in on her, only to find out that she was suffering from complications of sickle-cell anemia. She had been receiving blood transfusions to keep her condition under control, and ultimately, to save her life.

As soon as I found out what was really going on, I volunteered to donate blood. I was excited to actually be able to help in a tangible way. When the time came, I filled out a brief survey, sat around in the waiting room -- and was turned away. I was told that, due to an FDA policy that had been in place since the early 1980s, gay and bisexual men were banned from donating blood.

I was embarrassed and confused that such outdated discriminatory regulations were keeping patients from getting the care they needed. Orlando is an epicenter of hurricanes and other natural disasters, so every nurse in the area knows the importance of access to a readily available blood supply. Not to mention, the tragic Pulse Nightclub shooting that was especially painful for the LGBTQ+ community. I was determined to make a change and connect any blood donor, regardless of their sexual orientation, to any patient in need.

There are so many underrepresented communities in health care and, as a result, very little awareness of policies that uphold discrimination.

When I realized that no organizations existed to fight the FDA ban or spread awareness about it, I created a Facebook page and shared it with members of my nursing community. The page, which I called Banned4Life, brought the issue to light and started circulating online. My peers rallied in support of me and the cause, attracting the attention of news outlets and turning Banned4Life into its own social and political movement. Before long, I was drafting petitions and organizing local blood drives so anyone who was able to donate blood could on behalf of those excluded by the ban.

It was amazing to see what began as a grassroots social media campaign grow into a national movement. And it was a wakeup call that showed me how much power nurses really have in terms of advocating for themselves and their communities.

It made me realize that the power of just one voice can have a huge impact on health care at large. After two years of petitions and blood drives, collecting signatures, and mobilizing a nationwide network of nurses and healthcare workers, I finally saw my work pay off. In 2015, the FDA lifted the ban. There's still an abstinence deferral period in place for gay and bisexual men as blood donors, so even though a great deal of work is yet to be done, every step forward is progress.

Comic Relief Is Sometimes Just What the Nurse Ordered

Outside of Banned4Life, I try to inspire my community in more lighthearted ways that still make a big difference in terms of morale. I make funny videos for social media about the experiences we've all shared -- life as a nursing student, sleep-deprived night shift workers, creative ways to style scrubs, just to name a few.

I use humor as a way for nurses to practice self-care when they need it most, when a quick laugh is just what they need to blow off some steam and recharge for the next shift.

I'm also kicking off a comedy tour this fall, with a routine that brings nursing students, staff, and even interfamilial generations of nurses together under a shared appreciation of the same laugh-out-loud moments I capture on social media.

Caring for Body, Mind, and Spirit

Nurses need holistic care just like patients do. Mental, physical, and emotional wellness is important for nurses to be able to bring the best of themselves to work each day. With that in mind, I created NurseCon, a nationwide organization that brings nurses together -- both in person and online -- with resources for education, community, wellness, and career growth. It's a great opportunity for nurses to connect professionally and personally, no matter where they're located. In my work as a podcaster and public speaker, I hope to continue to inspire students and nurses everywhere. The past year has been a prime example of how much nurses matter to their patients and communities, and how important it is to advocate for their needs. From the lack of personal protective equipment to the huge emotional impact of caring for patients during a pandemic, the world is recognizing nurses as the heroes they really are. And it's my goal to help students and nurses discover how their own voices work as part of a community to enact lasting change. From drawing attention to social issues to championing their own needs as care providers, nurses are an endless resource of power and inspiration. When given the right resources, visibility, and support from a strong and reliable network, nurses create connections with their patients and peers to build healthy communities everywhere.