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‘American heroes’: Ernest Grant helps honor nurses in Oval Office

National Nurses Day took center stage in a recent White House ceremony. UNC Greensboro alumnus Dr. Ernest Grant, president of the American Nurses Association, was invited as a special honoree to help applaud the nation’s nurses. 

“History will forever – and I really mean that, forever – remember how our nurses answered the call of duty in America’s hour of need,” President Donald Trump said.

“It’s my honor to welcome so many extraordinary nursing professionals as we celebrate National Nurses Day.”

Dr. Ernest Grant '93 MS, '15 PhD in the Oval Office in May 2020

Accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Ambassador Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump introduced Grant and President of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Sophia Thomas. Other nurses were on hand in the Oval Office to represent the nation’s nurses.

“The men and women in this room today are true American heroes,” the president said.

Dr. Ernest Grant in the Oval Office in May 2020

After thanking the president for his efforts and for his acknowledging National Nurses Day, Grant briefly spoke about the mental health needs nurses will have after this very stressful pandemic. “One big concern that I have is the post-traumatic trauma that a lot of the nurses and doctors and other members of the health care team will be facing in the future,” he said.

Grant, featured in the current UNCG Magazine, holds two UNCG degrees, a master of science in nursing (’93) and a PhD (’15). When he received the doctorate, he became the first African-American male to earn a doctoral degree in nursing from UNCG. 

In 2018, Grant was the first male to be elected president of the American Nurses Association. Formed in 1896, the association is the leading voice for all the nation’s registered nurses.

Having grown up with limited means in a single-parent home, Grant is keen to help and inspire the next generations of nurses. “I’ve always wanted to make the way easier for those who come after me,” he said.

In honor of his mother, he established the Ernest J. Grant Endowed Scholarship in Nursing to provide support for multicultural male students with financial need. 

Before the Oval Office ceremony, Grant and the other nurses spoke with – and made suggestions to – Azar and Dr. Birx. Birx serves as the White House coronavirus task force’s response coordinator. The vice president chairs the task force.

“I also had the opportunity to have a side-bar conversation with Vice President Pence,” Grant said. “I asked him to strongly suggest to the governors of the 50 states that, as they implement their reopening plans, they add a nurse – particularly a community or public health nurse – to their task force. Nurses should be at the table to discuss best practices so that the reopening process can be done in a safe and effective manner.”

Now back at his home in North Carolina, Grant will record an official address for UNCG School of Nursing graduates. It comes at the same time as National Nurses Week, which has taken on greater significance during this first wave of the pandemic. 

“Each May, we celebrate America’s nurses for their hard work. This May looks a little different – it is not a celebration,” Grant said. “This is a time to recognize nurses and other health professionals on the front lines of COVID-19. I want the nurses and other health professionals to know that we stand with them.”

Story by Advancement Communications
Photography courtesy of the White House


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