When Verlia Brown was growing up in Kingston, Jamaica in the West Indies, she never dreamed that one day she would become a nurse in America. Not only did she fulfill that dream, she rose through the ranks to become the president of the New York State Nurses Association and met President Bill Clinton when he was in office. She recently wrote a book called My Journey on Becoming a Nurse, which chronicles her journey that took her from a shy island girl to a powerful leader of nurses, giving them a voice.
Retiring from nursing after 38 years, Brown, now a Wantagh resident, decided she wanted to write a book about her journey to encourage people not to give up on their dreams, even if they are confronted with many obstacles. Brown’s mother died when she was 2 years old so she lived with her grandmother. She noticed nurses near her home one day and was fascinated by the uniform.
When she was a teenager, Brown worked in a library and started reading medical journals. It wasn’t until the age of 19 that she packed her bags and came to America by herself, knowing only one friend in New York.
“I had never seen snow, or a subway and all of the houses were stuck together,” said Brown, who took a job at a freight company and went to night school studying American history, chemistry, and international law. She took the entrance exam, applied to Kings County School of Nursing and was accepted, beginning her 38-year career as a registered nurse, elevating her position and entering politics.
“My greatest achievement was becoming the president of the New York State Nurses Association and a spokeswoman for nurses,” said Brown. “I appeared on CNN and the Today Show and spoke about health care. I also represented the NYS nurses at the international conference of nurses in Yokohama, Japan in 2006.”
When she was president, Brown had a chance to meet another president, Bill Clinton.
“He came to our meeting and I greeted him on the stage. He looked at me and said, ‘I really like your pin,’ so I took it off and gave it to him and he put it in his pocket,” recalled Brown. “The NYS delegates went nuts when they saw this and asked why I didn’t faint. I told them that I am a critical care nurse so I am able to handle every kind of situation.”
Brown’s pin said, “Every patient deserves a registered nurse.” Ironically, Clinton’s mother was a registered nurse. There is a picture of the two of them in Brown’s book and she has a photo framed on her wall with his signature. When she wrote her book, she sent a copy to Clinton who sent a very nice note back.
Brown wrote My Journey on Becoming a Nurse six months after she retired. Surprisingly, she is not only a two fingered typist with carpel tunnel, but she is also not computer literate.
“I wrote the book on the computer and then it disappeared. I don’t know where it went so I had to start all over again,” said Brown.
She also admitted that she was a tough task master when she was a nurse manager. As a hard worker, she expected nothing less of her nurses.
“The qualities that go into being a good nurse are competency and honesty,” said Brown. “They say nursing is the most trusted profession. You have to have integrity and compassion and the fire in you to be a health care worker because nursing is very demanding.
It’s not just giving out medications and bed pans. Nurses have to make life and death decisions sometimes.”
On the topic of patient care, Brown advises nurses to, “Put yourself in the patient’s body and treat patients as you would treat your own family.” She believes that nurses should continue to educate themselves, have at least a four-year degree and achieve the highest they can in skills and competency.
Although Brown has retired, she admitted she does miss nursing, but she has certainly not slowed down. She has become a world traveler and last year went to the Holy Land to Jordan and Israel. Brown continues her role in compassion now as a minister of consolation at funerals for her church, works at the church library and is training to be an alter server. At 67 years old, there is no slowing down for this dynamic nurse who proved that there are no obstacles so great as to not achieve your dream.
Verlia Brown’s book My Journey on Becoming a Nurse is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the Book Revue and is also featured in several local libraries.