New York, NY – Marva Wade is a 75-year-old retired nurse, originally from Roanoke, Virginia, who spent nearly a half century on the job before retiring just a few years ago. But Wade is anything but uninvolved — as a member of the New York State Nursing Association’s [NYSNA] Board of Directors, Wade continues to give generously of her time and energy, helping the union spread the word about the nursing profession and fighting for universal healthcare. LaborPress sat down with Wade to find out more about her ongoing activism — including the drive to pass the NY Health Act.
LP: How did you come to be a nurse?
MW: I was initially a nurse’s aide and worked at Mount Sinai. Then, through 1199, I went to nursing school, and through an upgrade program became an RN represented by NYSNA.
LP: Why did you want to become a nurse?
MW: I always wanted to be a nurse. I thought it was so exciting. I had an aunt who worked in a doctor’s office — the only Black person to work there. She wore all white. Because of segregation she couldn’t attend nursing school. I made our dream a reality. She was so impressed.
LP: What do you say to young people thinking about a nursing career?
MW: I’ve had the opportunity to speak to students in junior high school and high school, through NYSNA and Mount Sinai. You never really know who you’re going to influence. Love of what we do crosses all barriers. I think nurses love what they do and have joy in it.
LP: What about your early years on the job? How did that go?
MW: In 1199 as a nurse’s aide, I always had a real love for patients. I worked in the post-op unit. If they needed someone to work overtime I stayed. Patients really appreciated it. Then I asked if I could observe [surgery]. I was upgraded to be a surgical technician. Nurses I worked with said I was wasting myself. So I went to 1199 and they sent me to school.
LP: What was the greatest challenge for you on the job?
MW: When I was an operating room nurse, most of my career, the biggest challenge was med students and residents coming into the operating room without a concept of sterility. Which I’m all about. So transferring your knowledge to somebody else. Also being president of my local bargaining unit for 35 of 40-something years. Advocacy for nurses. Being proactive for patients.
LP: You are a leading voice for healthcare as a human right. How did your views evolve?
MW; We are the only westernized country on Earth that can’t seem to get it right. I believe the 55,000 New Yorkers who died from COVID died because of a lack of health care. Where do you go when you don’t have health care? You pray. It doesn’t always work. By the time a lot of people got to the emergency room it was too late. The reason [I am involved] is because everybody has a right to live.
LP: Although you are retired you are very active in a number of ways. Tell us about some of them.
MW: I am still on the Board of Directors of NYSNA. I chair the Single Payer Committee; I do a lot of work on the NY Health Act. I’m also the president-elect of the Rotary Club of Harlem. And I’m involved with a foundation called AFYA. People donate all kinds of equipment that we send to places in the U.S. and other countries – surgical and medical. I go in twice a week to a warehouse to sort, make sure the items are not outdated, and [help] package and ship them.