Keeylynn McGriff has been a Registered Nurse at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh’s Northside for a year. He comes from a line of nurses: his grandmother retired from the VA after 40 years of service, and his mother continues to practice at the VA. He attributes his love of nursing to their influence, and his own passion for caring for others. He has been a vocal advocate at his hospital and his community more broadly for safe staffing and expanded access to care.
- Tell us about the home you were raised in.
I was raised by a single mom, as well as my maternal grandparents. My grandmother is a Registered Nurse, with over 40 years of experience, 36 years of those years working for the VA in Pittsburgh.My mother was a phlebotomist for over 10 years while her children were growing up. Then she went back to school for a second career as a Registered Nurse, with 10 years of experience. She also works at the VA in Pittsburgh.As I was growing up, I was raised to appreciate the sacrifices of our veterans and I would help at events for the veterans at the VA Hospital, events like the Wheelchair Games. I was also raised to believe that each in our own way must serve our country.
Our house always seemed to have people who were not family in it. Once I got older, I realized that our home was the safe home, the place of acceptance. This may have partly began due to the fact that my maternal grandparents are interracial.
- What was your growing years like?
Now that I think of it, people seemed to come to me especially when they were in need. I seemed to be the person who people sought when they needed help or advice or just to talk. This still occurs today among my family and friends. I guess it is true when they say, “some things never change.”
- Did you always want to be a nurse?
My path to nursing was definitely not straight. My boyhood dream was to be a police officer, law enforcement. Friends and family would say I should set my goals higher to detective or even FBI. I went to California University of Pennsylvania as a Justice Major with a concentration in Corporate and Homeland Security. I studies there for two in a half years before I began to question whether this was my real calling.In high school, I had another interest in sciences, especially sciences that involved the human body. I guess what also intrigued me is the type of nursing that my grandmother did, working for the Center of Treatment and Addictive Disorders, or CTAD for short. This ultimately shaped my decision, so I transferred schools and began taking the prerequisites to enter the nursing program.Thus, I started the path that would take me to nursing. What I learned was that “You can be taught the technical skills of nursing, but you can’t be taught compassion and what it means to truly be a nurse.” This is not just a job but a vocation, a way of life, a way of caring.
- What were your interests in college?
Probably because of my home life, I started doing advocacy work in college. It seemed like there were many students who were scared or felt threatened. I was instrumental in setting up and maintaining the “Community Safe Zones.” This was a network of places, and people, on campus where anyone who needed resources or someone to talk to could go. The effect of this network was to provide a safe haven for anyone who sought it. Many professors also got involved with this work. Students would go to talk about how they were feeling, often expressing feelings of depression and isolation; they could talk about things that stressed them. This was especially helpful to those in the LGBT community. I also advocated for similar “Safe Zones” on other school campuses.
- Tell me about your nursing and union-nursing career.
As is true in so many healthcare facilities and so many different nursing units, staffing is a top issue at my hospital. I found myself speaking out about the issue during contract time- how current staffing patterns are unsafe for patients and for nurses. I found myself as a preceptor and as a charge nurse after only five months of nursing.I want the best care for all patients–regardless of whether they are mine or not. One day it is going to be me in that bed. I want compassionate, quality care–even when it is not my shiniest moment.I believe that health care is a right and not a privilege. I often see patients with high acuity for conditions that are preventable with the right care. People are going to the Emergency Department in catastrophic cases rather than having access to preventative care. They are being readmitted at high rates. We should not be limiting access from people who cannot afford it. Those people need it the most.
- This week is Nurses’ Week. What is your impression of the nursing profession?
It is my love of nursing that draws me to do things outside the hospital- to improve the profession. You cannot just sit around and wait for things to change, you have to stand up and take action. You have to make change.Nurses are said to be the most respected profession in America–I want to bring that respect back into nursing. Doctors rely on nurses and can’t do their job without nurses. I want to help in creating safer environments for nurses.Right now, people who don’t actually provide the care are making all the decisions. They are out of touch with what is actually going on at the bedside. Frontline nurses are the eyes and ears, but they do not have enough of a say. We need more nurses at the table where decisions are made. As nurses, we have a better understanding of what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. Legislators need to hear from us.