UnityPoint Health-Finley Hospital ER nurse Jen Hanks often sings to her patients. She’s the first to say it has nothing to do with a good singing voice.
“I find that nursing is the art of humanity,” said Hanks, 38. “So, to be able to connect with another human being and show vulnerability and to access their humanity is the easiest way to help someone through a hard time. And there’s nothing that makes you more vulnerable than singing out loud.”
Hanks’ dedication to her patients was one of the qualities that led to her being featured in “In Case of Emergency,” a documentary that takes an unwavering look at the nurses on the frontlines of emergency room care.
Filmmaker Carolyn Jones has a special affinity for health care workers and others in the medical field. Besides “In Case of Emergency,” she has put the spotlight on nurses in “Defining Hope” and “The American Nurse.”
The films, including the one in which Hanks’ is featured, are part of Jones’ American Nurse Project, which includes documentary films, books and ongoing interviews, all focused on the voice of nurses in the U.S.
“It’s very much for a lay audience,” Hanks said. “It’s a way to understand the real life of an ER nurse, what we actually do, how we actually face people and help people and touch lives every day.”
Hanks has worked in the ER for nine of her 15 years as a nurse. She worked in the ICU for a year before moving to her current position.
“We really are the frontline of medicine,” Hanks said. “We’re the first face people see when they’re brought into the ER. They’re scared, and they need care, and it’s our job to get them through all of that.”
It was Hanks introduction to Jeff Solheim, an Oregon-based nurse, that led to her participation in the documentary.
“I took a certification class for ER nurses, and Jeff was the instructor,” she said. “I was just so impressed with what he does. He started his own medical mission group, and I went on a trip with his group to Haiti, one of his many trips. Medical mission trips are just phenomenal, and the whole team was amazing. I got to know him that way.”
Hanks hadn’t talked to Solheim for quite a while when he called her one day out of the blue. He was now president of the Emergency Nurses Association, and he was helping the producers of “In Case of Emergency” with casting for the film.
“He asked me if I would be interested, and I said, ‘Oh goodness, I don’t know,’” she said. “He set up an interview with the producer, and it just went from there.”
A small crew shadowed Hanks at her job for several days in 2018. The completed film debuted at the Emergency Nurses Association Conference in Austin, Texas, in 2019. Hanks was there when a preview of the film was shown, which featured her singing to a patient with Down syndrome. The scene got a huge reaction from the audience.
“Someone told me over the half the room was crying,” she said. “I know I am by far not the greatest nurse on the planet, but if I can she light on all of us, that’s pretty amazing.”
Hanks, who lives in Petersburg, Iowa, with her husband, Phil, and children, Katy and Shawn, also has a passion for teaching nursing.
She has been teaching clinicals at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and is studying for her master’s in nursing education so she can teach in the classroom.
“I just love teaching, and I love nursing,” she said. “I love everything about it, and I want to help the next generation that’s going to come into this profession.”
Michelle London writes for the Telegraph Herald.