Meagan Shipley, a nurse in the Baltimore City Health Department, works at a family planning clinic during the day and helps provide health care to workers on The Block in the evenings. When she was contacted by photographer Carolyn Jones to be part of a new coffee-table book, "The American Nurse," she agreed, hoping to publicize the work the city is doing to help workers in Baltimore's strip-club hub
"A lot of people want to write off [Block workers]," she says. "I hate this attitude. … They are not just throwaway people."
Shipley says she originally intended to work in environmental sciences. But after spending days catching rats in the Everglades, she discovered she didn't like research. She began volunteering at an HIV clinic in Miami and found nursing was her true calling.
Shipley is one of 19 Baltimore nurses included in Jones' book and the companion website, The American Nursing Project. For five months, Jones interviewed and photographed nurses whose work ranged from crossing streams in Appalachia to bring health care to the poor to conducting laboratory research. The stories of 100 interviewees show the diverse and profound ways nurses change lives.
Karen Daley, president of the American Nurses Association, says that the profiles in the book and on the website illustrate not only the compassion of the nation's 3.1 million nurses but also their knowledge and education, which is vital to the American health care system.
"It captures the richness and range of our practice," Daley says.
The American Nurse Project was developed by Rhonda Collins, vice president for Fresenius Kabi USA, a medical equipment supplier. Collins, who worked a number of years as an obstetrics nurse in Texas, says she was looking to bring name recognition to her company in a way that was "elegant and useful."
"I didn't want to do another marketing campaign," Collins says. "I wanted to do something for the greater good."
A marketing firm helped her find Jones, a New York City-based photographer whose work included documenting AIDS survivors. The two women met a year ago and, in a meeting lasting several hours, sketched out the idea for the book and website.
Collins wanted Jones to capture the variety of work nurses do, including helping transport patients in helicopters, caring for prison inmates, comforting patients with terminal illnesses and saving the lives of trauma victims in hospital emergency rooms.
"I recognized that my profession is not always portrayed in TV shows and movies as we are," Collins says. "I wanted to do something that is in the nurses' voice, that we tell our story."
Jones says the project was both an educational and emotional journey for her. Among the nurses she photographed was Joanne Staha, a chemotherapy nurse at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan who had cared for Jones when she was treated for breast cancer seven years ago.
At Johns Hopkins Hospital, she interviewed Karen Frank, a nurse who holds dying babies when their families can't be there, and photographed emergency room nurses while doctors tried to save a gunshot victim in the next room.
"I would go into an interview with Kleenex in my pocket," Jones says.
Although she was struck by the heart-wrenching stories, she says there was something else she found. "There is this enormous humanity that the nurses have," she says.
And the nurses' stories became a way to tell stories about other complicated issues facing American society — poverty, crime, an aging population and returning military veterans, she says.
Baltimore figures prominently in the book and website because of Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, Jones says.
"The nurses were so articulate and so happy to tell their stories," Jones says. "We didn't go into it having such a large section of the book to be about Baltimore, but the stories were too good."
Another Baltimore nurse in the book, Sharon Kozachik, moved from patient care to research and teaching. After working as a hospital nurse, Kozachik became fascinated by research in pain management and sleep. She went on to earn her doctorate and now teachers in the Hopkins nursing school.
"When I'm a bedside nurse, I can only impact one person at a time, but if I'm good at research, I can impact countless numbers of people," Kozachik says.
Although she's been teaching for nearly a decade, she says she will always be a nurse. "Everything I do is still framed as a nurse," she says. "Everything I do in the lab has clear clinical applicability."
When she learned last spring that Jones was looking for nurses to photograph, Kozachik eagerly responded.
"I'm really wanting to put forth a positive view of nursing," Kozachik says. "The media often portrays nurses as the drug addict, the sexpot, the ditz. I think it's unfortunate that our profession has suffered to make money for the television industry. ... I wanted to see that we're more than we're portrayed in the media."
Hershaw Davis Jr., a nurse in the Johns Hopkins Hospital emergency department, says he also agreed to participate in the book and website project to help give a more accurate portrayal of nurses.
"It's the first book of its kind that actually tells the story of the American nurse," he says. "You are hearing the voices of the American nurse in this book."
In the book and website video, Davis describes the first time he saw emergency room doctors crack open the chest of a stabbing victim in an effort to save his life. "It was rough, but somehow I got through it," he recalls in the book.
Davis says he didn't know any male nurses when he was growing up, and even though more men are now in the profession, he sometimes encounters patients and their families who are surprised that such a burly guy is a nurse.
"I've had some interesting reactions," says Davis, who has earned the nickname "gentle giant."
"The American Nurse" is in its second printing, and Jones has more stories to tell. She plans to take her camera on the road again this spring, photographing and interviewing nurses in Texas and the Pacific Northwest.
A photo exhibition is likely and possibly a documentary, she says. "We're not finished with this yet."
About the book
"The American Nurse," by Carolyn Jones. Welcome Books, $60
Proceeds go to the American Nurses Foundation to provide nursing scholarships.
More information: americannurseproject.com
See more photos and read an interview with the author at The Baltimore Sun's Dark Room.