Emory Report
March 7, 2005
Volume 57, Number 22


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March 7 , 2005
Carter pledges to pass along nursing concerns

BY eric rangus

Jimmy Carter’s accomplishments and the notations and honorary titles that accompany them could cover a very large wall (they do, in fact, cover several walls in the Carter Center). He visited the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Feb. 24, to discuss one honor—an honor that has a special place in his heart.

“I was concerned that they would forget to tell you that I was an honorary nurse,” said Carter, following an introduction that included that title among many others. “You can throw away the 39th president and Nobel Prize,” he said, chuckling.

Carter’s mother, Lillian, became a registered nurse in 1923, so he knows a great deal about the vocation, and his address to the standing-room-only crowd (which included a pair of overflow rooms, where his appearance was broadcast on closed circuit) capped his first visit to the nursing school’s 4-year-old building. Accompanied by students, faculty and Dean Marla Salmon, he toured its facilities (including a visit to the Lillian Carter Center for International Nursing) before settling into a lecture hall for his talk.

Carter said he spent his childhood surrounded by nurses, often eating his lunch at the Plains hospital where his mother worked. He not only spoke of the inherent career challenges she faced, working 12-hour shifts at a Plains hospital for $4 a day, but he also recalled with humor how she and her co-workers would blow off steam after those long hours. Carter spoke with vivid detail about the Saturday night parties his mom would host; the revelry would keep him awake at night, the main culprit being a peg-legged surgeon who would not stop dancing.

Following his relatively brief address, which included his reciting a poem written by then-68-year-old Lillian when she was a Peace Corps volunteer, Carter answered audience questions. While he fielded some questions of a political nature—on the 2004 presidential election, for instance—the majority concerned health care in general and the nursing community in particular.

The idea of health care as a right not a privilege, of giving nurses prescriptive authority in Georgia (they currently do not), and the importance of global health were among the subjects covered. Clearly moved by the student and faculty perspectives, Carter pledged to take their concerns up the political ladder.

“Give your questions to the dean,” Carter said. “I’ll make appointments with Gov. [Sonny] Perdue and the Legislature and tell them that these are problems I’ve heard about from nurses at Emory.”

In conclusion, Carter said most people prefer to live in a cocoon surrounded by others like them and with whom they are friendly. “Nurses have the ability to break down that wall and reach out to people who are different,” he said. “They have an awareness of the world and of the amazing diversity of circumstances of life that exist in this country and around the world. [A nurse] is the epitome of the highest level of human moral values.”

Just prior to Carter’s exit, Cheri Mullen, president of the nursing school’s Class of 2005 presented Carter with a centennial T-shirt. Upon receiving the gift, Carter repeated something he has likely said countless times, but this time sounded just a bit more moved. “I’ve got a lot of T-shirts,” he said. “But this is my favorite one.”