The opening quote in Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s gripping book, What The Eyes Don’t See, struck me right in the heart: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” so says Dr. Suess. Caring is something that may be in short supply during our current political climate. Grappling with caring, too much or too little is worth a moment of self-reflection. We have to know what we care about, and lead with our “why,” in order to make an impact.
Dr. Mona is the hero pediatrician who worked relentlessly to uncover and expose the public health disaster in Flint, Michigan because she cares so deeply about children. Profits over marginalized people set the stage for decision-makers to shift the source of water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. At first, Dr. Mona, despite skepticism from her parents, believed that officials were being truthful when they insisted the water was fine. She soon found out that listening to mothers, one of the seminal lessons taught in pediatric residency, was key to her pursuit for the truth. The water, in fact, was not fine, it was contaminated. Lead levels were astronomical and the youngest children were being poisoned by the invisible neurotoxins found in the water supply.
The compelling story of Dr. Mona’s call to activism is detailed in What the Eyes Don’t See. The grassroots movement which she found herself leading came together to fight for justice, safety and the health and well-being of children. Gerald Markowitz, the co-author of Lead Wars, gave this advance praise for the book: “What the Eyes Don’t See captures all that is wrong and right in America at this moment.”
Dr. Mona shared her riveting story on a book tour that stopped at the Free Library of Philadelphia on a rainy July evening. When I first heard about the event, I knew that I wanted to share the experience with my Rutgers-Camden School Nurse Certificate students. Leadership and advocacy are tenets of NASN’s Framework for 21st Century School Nursing Practice, hearing Dr. Mona’s first-hand account of her call to activism to protect children was a timely topic for my students as they are in the midst of the school nurse graduate coursework.
The new Dean of Rutgers-Camden School of Nursing, Dr. Donna Nickitas, joined our outing. Dr. Nickitas, also the Editor of Nursing Economics The Journal for Health Care Leaders, is a visionary leader who speaks the language of activism and advocacy. There was a strong contingency of school nurses represented at the lecture. Thanks to the power of social media, Beth Mattey, immediate Past-President of NASN, had tweeted to Dr. Mona to alert her that school nurses would be coming to her talk. In fact, the tweets not only got noticed, Dr. Mona gave school nurses several shout-outs during her lecture!
Here is our group, fangirling before the event started: Left to right, Beth Mattey, me, Donna Nickitas, Denise Buffen, and Jeannie Kiefner.
Here are my wonderful students – the future of school nursing is in capable hands!
The feedback from the students was phenomenal. Here is a snippet of what one student shared after the event:
I wanted to tell you how wonderful it was to attend last night’s lecture, since we just learned about the impact of crisis on children and disparities.
Dr. Mona’s story was truly an inspiration in bringing change to a community. I loved her passion as she shared her pursuit to protect the health of the children in Flint. What an amazing model of recovery! – DM