Nurses on Capitol Hill, marching for climate change, in the scorching July heat?
Mikaila Gawryn, BSN, RN, a pediatric nurse from Colorado, was ready to answer the call to support the Clean Power Plan by visiting her senators and recounting to them first-hand accounts of the growing number of children she sees struggling to breathe when their respiratory illnesses are exacerbated by warmer, polluted air.
She spent a day learning how environmental issues such as global warming, extreme weather, and exposure to toxins in the environment, specifically from byproducts of power production, affect community and individual health. Then she took to the streets of Washington, D.C., walking with nurses from all over the United States, to support the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to regulate the environmental effect of existing and future power plants.
Gawryn is no stranger to either environmental issues or to lobbying governmental officials. Prior to becoming a nurse, she obtained a degree in Environmental Studies, and worked at Earth Ministry, an environmental NGO out of Seattle, WA. Gawryn worked beside nurses during her time at Earth Ministry, and became convinced that environmental health and human health were, as she describes it, “…simply two sides of the same coin.” A healthy environment will contribute to the health and well-being of communities, families and people of all ages, especially the vulnerable children and elderly population. Sensing it was a perfect fit for her goals, Gawryn went back to school for her BSN.
When Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) sent out the invite for nurses to join the conversation around the Clean Power Plan, Gawryn didn’t hesitate. She jumped at the chance to join other green nurses lobbying for cleaner energy options, and promoting safeguards for health in that arena. Although it was her first time presenting to a legislative staffer on her own, Gawryn felt she found her voice when passionately speaking about the issues, and returned home to continue raising awareness among nurses.
After the ANHE conference, Gawryn noted, “My pathway into nursing was nontraditional. Because of that I've struggled with how to start conversations about environmental and human health with my colleagues. Participating in the conference reminded me of the deep connection between the health of our bodies, our patient's bodies and the health of the world we live in. I'm excited to return to work and slowly start talking about that connection to my coworkers and professional community.” Gawryn has the perfect understanding of the effects of climate change on health and well-being, to effectively advocate for clean air so the littlest of her patients can breathe a sigh of relief.