Sana Goldberg, A Fiery Nurse Is Spearheading #HealthForAll In US

Last updated 26 Apr 2017 . 7 min read


Sana Goldberg is a nurse, author, and public health advocate. A Reed graduate with a degree focused in Behavioral Neuroscience and Humanities, she later went on to receive her nursing degree from OHSU and currently practices as a psychiatric emergency nurse at Unity Center. Throughout her career she has worked with adolescent, geriatric, refugee and LGBTQ populations in various settings. She is the founder of Nightingale: a magazine of story, art, and activism for health equity. Her first book HOW TO BE A PATIENT: A Simple Book for the Complicated World of Modern Medicine is coming out with Harper Wave  in 2018.

Sana speaks to team SHEROES on why she founded Nightingale, her journey from the field of neurosciences to nursing, on dealing with anxiety and the importance of empathy in our lives.

On the idea of Nightingale

“The idea for Nightingale came about last fall, a few days after the 2016 presidential election. It was a time of political unrest in the US, and a common source of distress among my peers was access to healthcare and how it might change under a new presidency.

Nurses, doctors, and patients seemed to be bracing themselves for a period of chaos around prospective changes to the Affordable Care Act and—regardless of political affiliation—many felt their access to care was under threat.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert has a theory that ideas float around in the ethers and then, one day, decide to bestow themselves upon you and see if you will bring them to life.

When the idea for Nightingale came to me I was taking a bath. At the time, I'd been willing myself to move through disappointment so that I could see opportunity. I wanted to find a path that allowed my peers and I to channel our outrage into another form so it didn't go stale and turn to apathy. That night I got online, founded the URL domain, and created the bones of the site that would later become our magazine.

I realized that it was a time for nurses to mobilize, but more than that it was time to breathe new life into the relationship between patients and healthcare providers. The idea was to create a free, accessible space for patients and practitioners to elevate conversations about healthcare through nontraditional mediums of story, art, and activism.

It's accurate to say the election was a catalyst for Nightingale, but it only came to fruition because of a select group of women who helped bring it to life. Our early contributors were so generous with their time and faith in our ability to get Nightingale off the ground.

The other founders and I were located all over the country, and outside of our day jobs (as nurses, artists, writers) we spent hours back and forth on email and face time over the next three months until our launch. It was an insane amount of work, but it never felt like work (for me, anyways).

Nursing as a career and the associated prejudices

My path to nursing was a nontraditional one. After studying behavioral neuroscience in various labs and pursuing research, I realized that I was better suited to an intimate, connective career. I contemplated medical school, a PhD in clinical psychology, and even a teaching degree, but when I discovered the Nurse Practitioner/Doctorates path I felt as if it had been designed just for someone like me.

I was searching for a professional path that would allow me to provide direct patient care, to teach, and to take up my own research should the opportunity arise. Nursing had room for all of these things, and, as it affords such autonomy and ability for lateral movement, I didn't have to worry I'd wind up stuck in a job I was unhappy with. The day I began my studies I realized I'd made the right decision, and luckily that feeling hasn't wavered yet.

As a nurse I must contend with stereotypes about my profession that are indeed maddening. Much of this is rooted in sexism, and it's important to point that out. The work of nursing has been dismissed, in thought and in gesture, because nursing has historically been the work of women. Does this affect patient care? Absolutely.

Even contemporary, progressive individuals hold on to a dated idea that nurses are meant to be helpful and submissive—but not heard— and certainly never visionaries. When you study nursing, though, you see that no professional can be categorized by their subservience.

Human passion and intellect have a tendency to break through that box, and they always will. Donna Diers, Lillian Wald, and Hazel Johnson Brown— these nurses were absolute visionaries.

Dealing with anxiety

I've had a lifelong battle with anxiety, and pretty much everyone who knows me can attest to it! It colors the way I view the world, and how I move through it. It makes abundance look like stress, and self-care look like idleness.

Such poison! My own particular brand of anxiety has run my life at times, and can have me making decisions from a place of fear (which is never a place you want to operate from). I think talking about it openly is important, because we all have our demons, and bringing them out into the light takes away a bit of their power.

My greatest antidote for anxiety? Not taking myself too seriously. Self-importance and anxiety (for me, anyways) really go hand-in-hand and they are the kiss of death when it comes to creativity and presence—the two things I am always chasing.

The growing importance of empathy

Empathy is central to nursing, but I think of it as a starting point rather than an end goal. I see empathy as a catalyst for action, especially for unlearning much of the bias that dictates modern lives. I  agree with Daniel Pink insofar that the profession of nursing offers so many lessons in empathy that are relevant in an era defined by social media and fast-paced consumerism. I'm now eager to read his book, A whole new mind.”


Garima Gupta
A budding engineer and a dancer at heart, driven by the zeal to make a dent in the world.

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