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2020 Year of The Nurse - A Conversation with Robyn Roots

May 24, 2023

Before you read today’s blog, You are going to want to take a moment right now to go and listen to this song “2020 Year of The Nurse” in its entirety. Make sure you grab your Kleenex box, you're going to need them.

The song you just listened to was featured in the award-winning documentary called "2020 Year of The Nurse”. This song was written and performed by Robyn Roots and Tray Chanay and has thousands of views on YouTube. We are really excited for today's episode because with us today on the Caring Support Podcast is Nurse by day, Film producer by Night, Author, Music Producer, Renal Strategist and Life Coach Robyn Roots!

Tell us about yourself.

I am so excited to be here and thank you guys for this opportunity. A little bit about me. I am originally from Florida, ended up in Texas and transplanted in Richmond. I have been in the healthcare field for over 33 years and my specialty, of course, is renal dialysis. About seven years ago, somebody found me on social media, Facebook, which was amazing because I had just joined, and it was a childhood friend. He was into the film industry, but my goal was to write a book, and so I got bit by the film bug. I went down to Orlando to get an understanding of film because I had no idea of what film really entailed. With that venture down to Orlando, I was on set, looked at the project and really had a great conversation with the writer, director and producer who happened to be paralyzed. Being a nurse, I love those kinds of stories where even though you are challenged with health issues, that you continue to persevere. I just fell in love with the movie Turn Around, and I became executive producer. Since that project, I've done about 13 other films and I'm just so inspired because there are so many heroes out here. That's a little bit about my nursing and film careers and I am really excited about 2023 because I know social media is a game changer.

Can you tell us what inspired you to write, direct and film your song “2020 Year of the Nurse”?

What really inspired me to write, direct and produce it was that I created a film project, 2020 Year of the Nurse, and my goal was to put the song within the documentary, but the documentary was so compelling I could not find a place to write a song. After the film was released, I didn't feel like I needed to write a song. I'm a very spiritual person, and God just kept saying, Write the song, write the song. So, I went walking one day and I wrote the song, and it basically encompassed the documentary, the high points of the documentary.

I wanted to write this song to salute and really celebrate the lives of the people that have been affected by COVID, lives that had been lost and to salute the healthcare team for their heroic efforts during COVID.

The song took on a really special place in my heart. I listen to it every day and I get messages and emails from people saying that they listened too and it inspired them into coming back into the hospital after COVID has settled down. It still has an effect on everybody.

I teamed up with Trey Chaney, who played in The Wire, everybody kind of knows about The Wire from Maryland, and God just told me he was the one to rap the song because I'm not a singer, not at all. It was fun doing the project because I had to figure out the steps to it, and that's what nurses do: we research. I went through a lot of different music beats to pick the beat that I could visualize the nurses moving in and then also finding a production company to help me to record the song. Then I flew to Atlanta to meet Trey Chaney and we created the video and so the song is available on multiple platforms, but it's just something that was in the cards for me.

When you have certain call on your life to help people, you can reach people by TV, podcast, music, etc. I feel like with the film, the book and the song, everybody can be touched by it. I'm just excited that that has happened in his life. My grandkids, they are my biggest fans, so I'm just excited.

Can you tell us why you took on this amazing and massive storytelling project?

The reason I took on this project, 2020 Year of The Nurse, was because everything was chaotic and being a nurse for over 33 years, I had that internal gut feeling. We as nurses, we get a gut feeling when something is happening, but this was different.

During my practice everything was chaotic. I found myself in the chapel of the facility I worked in for like a week straight, just praying and asking God to show me how to help my healthcare team, my nurses, my new doctors coming into the facility and crying a lot and I've never seen anything like it. Somebody comes in there, has symptoms of COVID, tests positive, and when within days they would pass away. Then you start getting all these news alerts, emails telling us which way to direct our care.

What I started doing, because nurses were coming to me as a leader and I've been a nurse a long time, was sharing their experiences and their fear. I constantly talk with them and listen to what they were saying and try to give them some ways to deal with their stress and ways to be able to go home and be with their family or if they chose to stay in a hotel, or sleep in their car or stay within the hospital to continue to practice, to keep their loved ones safe. During that period of helping them God spoke to me to capture this because some of them may not make it. I really didn't want their career nursing to end like this without something showing their journey.

To me, it was a historical moment in time. Being a healthcare provider and working in dialysis, that's one of the highest, most infectious environments to work in because you’re working with blood. I have been very safe throughout my practice. I felt like I could run a team, my production team, and keep them safe.

Most of my people that I interview are nurses and one physician and then I had a pastor on set the whole time because God showed me that as you unpack it was going to be hard. It was going to be above my head. I called a pastor who is a cousin, a man that I grew up with, and I let him know what I was getting ready to do, and I needed him to be part of my team. He's never done film but he responded with ‘What do I need to do?’ and I say, ‘Just be a pastor, be a support, make sure they're good and make sure I'm good’.

When we started the process, the nurses, they were all on board because they were going through so much, they needed an outlet. I made a decision to take a lot of my savings and I'm going to put it towards this project and I am going to try my best to let them be as transparent and authentic as they need it to be. I figured out through the process how much I would use for the actual film, but it was really enlightening to me because they needed to talk.

We're talking about 13 providers. Each provider broke down during the filming. Something that I thought would be a quick film may have been a whole day because if they broke down we rallied together to talk to them and see what we could do. Some people, family members were going to call it, they hadn't seen them. They were in a hospital by themselves. Some people had deaths that were occurring as we were filming. I was a nurse helping my film crew. We all took on a higher role because we were used as resources.

I had producers out of Orlando, California, and Richmond. In California, they actually had an earthquake in the middle of COVID. One of my producer’s mom fell out of bed and broke her hip. You don't want to go to the hospital right now, but you have got to go to the hospital. Being a support to encourage her and encourage him that she needed to go, but then not preparing him, that when he got there, he couldn't go with her. He had to stay across the street in a hotel. It was things that, we as nurses, it went to another level for us, but we were there for the families and friends. Being a translator because he was getting a phone call from the hospital, they were calling us and we were translating what that meant and trying to keep them settled.

That was going on all over the country. People would call in and say, ‘Hey, my mom got a fever’. A lot of times it wasn't COVID. Some people just got out of surgeries of people heads is toothaches. They had regular things going on, but you had to encourage them to get help or to help them with some things that they could do because some people they may have had a mild infection, but the hospital says you cannot come here. You're going to have to go way across town to another hospital because we only taking COVID patients.

During the time of the film being produced and a lot of people were dealing with their own circumstances. They didn't know that somebody's having an asthma attack may not be a big priority because we got all the vents. My child has asthma. We always take him to the hospital. Well, not this time. We don't want them to get COVID. This is what we need for you to do.

I think as a country, we learned a lot. We came together in regard to our humanity because I just got off the phone yesterday with a couple who still have not buried their mom that passed away two years ago. Some people don't understand how it’s like this. That's COVID.

That film will be here when I'm gone. I hope and pray I can get to the level of getting into the school system so kids can see not just what African-American nurses went through, but what we all went through. That's why this song was so important because at the beginning you might get a little sad, but as you listen to it and watch it, you can see the hope and the change that we are making as society looking at pandemics like this, because this won't be the last.

What are your plans for sharing this video? How can people see it?

My ultimate goal for this documentary, 2020 Year of the Nurse, is self-distribution right now. I've looked at selling it to different networks. However, I'm concerned about the integrity of the film because these are healthcare providers and they told their truth. Different situations, days they've experienced with COVID, as well as how COVID collided with Black Lives Matter and what that looked like on the inside. You have to remember when that happened, all of us were locked down at home and we weren't able to really discuss it and how it impacted us. We were able to see some of the marches that included all of us showing humanity and looking at discrimination and the mental health piece.

I'm hoping because I've developed a curriculum for it as well, that organizations will reach out and want to screen it so their people can have those courageous conversations because with all of us are talking about it we can incite change. I think I will be instrumental in talking about that and also just looking at what's in place, because a lot of things were developed when we when COVID hit and also with Black Lives Matter and George Floyd. All of those things, it really impacted everybody to sit back and take another look at it.

I think coming into different organizations, not just hospitals but colleges, and I've spoken at just organizations here, Richmond, and in churches, because this is our community. This is our community. They want to understand and know what can we do differently? What do we need to have available in mental health? We're seeing that with shootings all over the country. We're seeing the suicide rate go up. We need to talk about these situations because we're the solution. We are the solution. We can't wait on somebody else to help us. This is our community.

What is this overall main message that you want your music, video and your film to have now and going into the future?

I want people to always know that I see you and the healthcare team, we see you. We saw all of you during COVID. That's why we stayed in it. That’s why lives were lost on the frontline because when you become a nurse or going into the medical profession, you take an oath to do no harm. Throughout my career, there were so many things that happened. People have heart attacks. They would have strokes. We created processes and plans for how to treat it. At home, if someone had a stroke, you immediately give them an aspirin, if they're not allergic to it, you call 911, you get everything going. This was different. We didn't have the answer quick enough to save as many lives as we wish we could see.

I really want the country to know that the nurses and the health care team we saw you and what people truly experienced. They spent a lot of time with the nurses via Zoom, just getting reports on what's going on with their loved ones, because if they couldn't get in there, then nurses were ones that were in there holding hands, praying with the patients, trying to help them to understand why their husband wasn't there, why their wife wasn't there, and the nurses were the ones there when they passed away.

That's hard because we're such caring people. We're used to embracing you. We're used to holding your hand when you’re transitioning. I tell people all the time, this is the only profession where you see life coming and you see life leave and people don't realize how it impacts us. It is a blessing to be given that charge of your life, but when people pass away, it's not an assembly line. Everything stops and we want to be with the family, we want to console you. We didn't get that during COVID. A lot of people are still struggling with that.

I want that song to always salute and remind everybody that we saw you and we really love you because you may feel like sometimes, does anybody remember what I went through? Does anybody remember my child? That's important to me right now. People still call me and say, oh, COVID is over. They just lost a loved one last week. It is not over. Everybody may not have gotten vaccinated. People are still getting sick and saying I tested positive.

I really want that 2020 Year of the Nurse documentary to always be something they can grab historically and say do you remember? That's why I feel, in my heart, that God told me to do this and plus put me out there in the middle of it. Because sometimes when you don't know what to do you have to get guidance to do something. I couldn't stop the infections, but I felt like I could support the

How can people help you share this message? And do you have suggestions or tips for people to be a part of the change that is very much needed?

How people can help is to have a screening, have an opportunity for their teen to have a courageous conversation, watch the film, pick out what you feel as a collective body that we need to discuss because as I've toured with this film in the East Coast, in the West Coast that won awards, the conversation or just life-changing is life-changing because there are pieces in a film that calls you to reflect and then calls you to salute.

I think of the woman in my travels that told me her husband died and he still hasn't been buried, yet she’s still functioning. They were married 40-something years. For her to come and sit in the audience and watch my film, I had to go up and give her a hug. I had to show her that.

It's important that you realize what the people around you are still dealing with. This gives us all an opportunity to discuss it, to come up with some strategic plans to be ready for the next pandemic and also look at how Black Lives Matter happened. We had the marches, it was a collective effort and talk about it because the next generation is watching how we manage what just happened.

Bringing it into organizations especially in May because in May there is Nurses Week. Do a movie night for the nurses so they can discuss and let off some of this stuff. Nobody really asks as a nurse: how are you doing? They have to come home and start the next evening cooking and helping with homework and all of that.

The change that we want to see is to invoke people to just be okay. Talking about these things. Mental health has really taken a shift. We call it self-care. Self-care. I just had a conversation with a gentleman this morning about the man cave and I got to thinking we don't have a woman's cave but we should. That's where they go and have their time to regroup and process what's going on in the house and then sometimes just shut us out of there so they can watch their game, whether it's decorated for the game or their band, whatever they like. Women need to claim our space in the house and get it comfortable for what we like to do instead of the kitchen cooking and the bedroom where all the kids come.

There are many great strategies and things that we could come up with collectively. I've created a curriculum that goes through all of it that helps people to start a conversation. The clips in the film will get you started to be able evaluate, because one of the privileges I had when I first did the film, I let some nursing students look at it that were first-year students in nursing and the conversation. I introduced it for one reason and they came back at me saying, Now I understand as I've become a nurse that I might encounter patients that might be prejudiced against the nurse and how to equip myself for that because they don't teach us that in nursing.

When you're African-American or from another country and you go in to take care of a patient that you know, has some biases towards that culture, how do you function in it? How do you make it through? That's my hope is that the more that we talk about these things that they all say, ‘hey, let's bring in this teaching tool because we are having these challenges’.

Everything on the news was showing other races of nurses, not African-American nurses, but we have a high number of African American nurses that are on a search floor for a lot of different diseases and co-morbidities. You see a lot of other cultures in ICU. If you really start understanding the dynamics of a hospital, you'll see different cultures. I think that was important for them to see. We weren't just talking about one nurse or one culture. It takes all of us to figure out what to do.

Are you working on any other music videos or films currently that we should be watching for?

I think I'm going to redo 2020 Year of the Nurse, but do something different with it. Slow it down a little bit, because now we're at a place in COVID where it is slowing down. I've been playing around with the lyrics and seeing if there's something I want to change. It probably won't make Nurses Week in May this year, but I'm kind of strategically always putting it around that month that we're celebrated.

As far as films are looking at, hopefully working with the Discovery Channel, I really want to do more on kidney health because since COVID is very connected, more people are having kidney failure because we dealt with the clotting of the blood and different things going on there.

Working with different voters, coalitions, trying to understand what they want to achieve with this and working with them to hopefully get something developed that's going to be in the museums. I've been in meetings with them here in Richmond and pulling my team together. I'm hoping we can get that done before the end of the year and learn something new for me, because they haven't been in the political arena that much. Just with nephrology going up, you know, with different policy changes. But now I'm really thinking about, you know, tipping into that area just a little bit more. It's opportunity.

Is there anything else you would like to talk to us about today?

I think one of the things that I would like to share is that if you get an opportunity to see the film, please watch it. There were some pivotal moments in there where one of the nurses talked about being the most trusted profession, but we thought we were the most loved. That has resonated with me because I see that being acted out all over the world now, with nurses leaving the industry and companies. Fear now that they feel COVID is not here, that there could be dropping their salaries in the middle of contracts. All this stuff that, you know, we normally don't do. If you signed a contract, this is what you're going to do for a period of time and then you have to renegotiate.

If we don't come into the healthcare field to take care of us, who will? As I educate people on their kidney health, I always talk about being the CEO of your health and that means you need to take care of your body, your mental health.

The level of care we've had for centuries is changing. It's really changing in hospitals and insurance companies are changing the structure of care. It used to be the doctor, the nurse practitioner, the registered nurse, the nursing assistant, LPN. Now they're trying to set up a structure where your first line would be nurse practitioners. I guess the doctors will be functioning holistically on the phone, answering questions. We are seeing that now where the doctor's actually covering so many facilities now, he's not even in the building anymore.

We've got to come together as a country and not let insurance companies dominate the best care for the patient, because in the end it'll cost less if you just treat me this way instead of going for the wholesale way, as I say it.

I think as a whole, I just want people to advocate, be an advocate for your specialty, your system process, yourself, because that's important, because they don't understand how it affects everything. It is our role as a specialist nurse in different areas to explain to them this in this go to get why we feel the way we feel instead of just talking about it. You have to show them and then when you show them, bring a solution to the problem. It's always been my motto in leadership, you can complain about anything to me, but tell me how we can do it better too. Be a part of that process. That team is going to help me to make a change. Be the CEO of your health and stay involved.

About The Author
Cali Wiersma
Social Media & Content Specialist

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