I recently attended a conference given by Margi Flint for the “practicing herbalist.” As a registered nurse, I often feel a by-stander in someone else’s world when I attend an herbal conference of any sort. It’s not that I am ashamed of my career, quit the opposite. I have been very successful, helped many patients and worked all over the country but somehow, I just don’t feel like I fit. I have studied herbs for over 17 years (longer than I went to nursing school), used herbs in a wide variety of ways with my family and friends, written articles about herbs to educate my peers but I still feel intimidated. I am not alone in this. I have met many nurses like myself who want to learn more, know that herbalism has a place for patients but we hesitate to discuss our thoughts. We attend conferences to learn from the best yet hide our own beliefs. Why, do many of us do this? One simple reason, fear.
From the time many of us got our license it was drilled into us that only doctors “diagnose, treat or prescribe (pharmaceuticals)”. Only nurses who go on to advance practice roles will ever prescribe and even then, there are limits as to what medications. Despite our advances and the science to support our work, society gives us yet another perspective. http://nursinginpopculture.blogspot.com/. We get so many mixed messages it becomes difficult to define who we are and what nurse’s really can and should do without risking our license! I had to resolve this issue once and for all. Here is what I learned;
The American Nurses Association (ANA) says nurses;
- Perform physical exams and health histories (Herbalists do this)
- Provide health promotion, counseling and education (Herbalists do this also)
- Administer medications, wound care, and numerous other personalized interventions (Herbalists administer plants, not medicines)
- Interpret patient information and make critical decisions about needed actions (Yes, herbalists do this too!)
- Coordinate care, in collaboration with a wide array of healthcare professionals (Check, I think an herbalist could be a healthcare professional)
- Direct and supervise care delivered by other healthcare personnel like LPNs and nurse aides (An herbalist does not do this but in all honesty, it’s a headache I can give up!)
- Conduct research in support of improved practice and patient outcomes (Yes, herbalists do this also!)
The ANA goes on to say that, “the essential core of practice for the registered nurse to deliver holistic, patient-focused care.” The real sticky piece seems to come with the interpretation of plants as medicines. I have always had a deep relationship with plants and they are more to me than just a plant but how do we discuss this and not sound as if we need a trip to the psychiatric department? Matthew Wood provides a nice summary;
We view the person and the medicine as having both a spiritual and material level of existence. This infers that we look upon Nature in a similar manner. In doing so, we depart from the conventional scientific approach, which views Nature, humanity, sickness, and plant life as mechanical entities. While we depart from the scientific mainstream we do not abandon science, but attempt to include it within a broader, spiritual perspective.
The essential difference seems to be that pharmaceuticals are the chemical derivatives of a plant used to target specific organs or organ systems while herbals are often the whole plant used to rebalance the entire system. Pharmaceuticals are mechanistic, plants are life-enhancing. I heard it once stated and I do not know from who, “we as nurses do not heal, we put patients in the best possible condition to heal themselves.” That is the goal of all herbalism-support and rebalance for the entire system just as it is for nursing. But I still felt I was missing the support from my own profession, then I found this book.
“The Nurse-Herbalist” by Dr. Martha Mathews Libster, gives a wonderful overview of nursing and herbalism. She is a PhD nursing educator in the Chicago area and incorporates herbalism into her practice as a holistic nurse. She educates nurses about herbalism and states, “nurse-herbalists partner with plants to explore the clinical applications of providing human comfort with plants as the catalyst for change. They are guided by principles and practices from science and the healing arts, demonstrating their commitment to providing counseling and care that flows from the center of a living ethic” (p.1, The Nurse-Herbalist: Integrative Insights for a Holistic Practice). And there it was, the common thread that binds me to the world to herbalism, “the living ethic.” I do not deal with mechanistic pharmaceuticals but with living beings that support and nurture just as I do as a nurse.
By the end of the conference, I found out about my back row buddies. Seems we all shared nursing as our career, 4 of us, in a row, in the back. I think the next conference I attend, I am going to ask who the nurses are in the room and move us all up to the front.