Susan Grant, Emory
Susan Grant, Chief Nurse, Emory Hospital, Atlanta

Why Nursing should thank Susan Grant and Emory Hospital for admitting Ebola patients


Something remarkable happened this week. Nursing spoke up and reasserted its fundamental values and purpose in a way that no corporate ‘mission statement’ or standards document ever could. Kudos are due to Susan Grant, Chief Nurse for Emory Healthcare in Atlanta, the hospital that is treating two American missionary workers who contracted Ebola virus in Liberia.

The very word ‘Ebola’ is fear-inducing and perhaps with good reason. It has killed several hundred people already and has no known cure. Yet two people with the Ebola virus were airlifted back to America to be treated and cared for in a US hospital.

Reactions were, to say the least, ‘mixed’. Donald Trump was characteristically febrile about the “idiots” bringing “the plague” into the country while other commentators were more guarded yet still profoundly uneasy at this action.

Into this maelstrom stepped Chief Nurse Susan Grant with a statement to the Washington Post that exemplified everything about courage, caring and comittment to health care that we hope Nursing still stands for.

Note first that this was comment from the Chief Nurse and in The Washington Post. How often do we bemoan and complain that nurses are never asked to comment on anything, that only doctors are interviewed, that ‘nobody listens to us’ that nurses are ‘not allowed’ to talk to the media etc, etc. What Susan Grant showed is that if you want to be listened to, first have something important to say.

Susan Grant made no apology at all for these patients being brought to her hospital because that is what the hospital is FOR. Its “foundational mission” she wrote, is “to care for the ill and to advance knowledge about human health” and they have the specialist facilities and highly trained staff to enable them to do this.

Most powerfully though, she articulated the moral, humanitarian and caring bedrock of our profession, proclaiming that, “Most importantly, we are caring for these patients because it is the right thing to do.” Sometimes, it is THAT simple. We care for people because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do despite ‘the system’, the ‘politics’, the dangers, the inconveniences, the difficulties and every other ‘yes but’ excuse that anyone can come up with as to why we should not care for our fellow human beings in need.

Susan Grant, and the nurses and other health professionals at Emory who willingly volunteered to care for these patients, even cancelling vacations in order to do so, are part of a great tradition of courage in Nursing. The tradition extends through the history of our military nurses in numerous wars and conflicts to the heroism and determination to care shown by nurses at the outset of other fearful epidemics such as AIDS and SARS.  It is not for nothing that ‘Courage’ was one of the ‘6 C’s’ promoted in the UK in the wake of The Francis Report and other ‘health scandals’.  These acts of courage need not be as dramatic as volunteering to nurse a patient with Ebola virus to be defining characteristics of the best of Nursing.  Every nurse who refuses to countenance affronts to human dignity, who will not walk past a standard of care that she would never accept for her own loved ones, who calls out mediocrity and lack of professionalism for what they are, who confronts policies or practices that endanger and threaten and who maintains a strong, confident voice for the voiceless, keeps this tradition alive and well.

I leave the final words to Susan Grant. Mark them well:

“People often ask why we would choose to care for such high-risk patients. For many of us, that is why we chose this occupation — to care for people in need (…) We can either let our actions be guided by misunderstandings, fear and self-interest, or we can lead by knowledge, science and compassion. We can fear, or we can care”.