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Interview with Genevieve M. Clavreul, Nurse, Activist and Businesswoman

Genevieve M. Clavreul has enjoyed a long, accomplished and world recognized nursing, activist, and business career. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Clavreul was at the forefront of the fight against HIV/AIDS and worked to help organize the efforts to make the battle an international issue.

In 2001, she launched with her daughters a new company, Solutions Outside the Box. The company was formed in order to help realize her vision of developing a strong network of collaborators from diverse fields and disciplines. She is also a featured columnist for Working Nurse Magazine. Her column is entitled “From the Floor” and has a readership of approximately 250,000 RNs in California and approximately 50,000 RNs in Arizona. At present she is working on a book entitled “In the Name of Science”, which is an insider’s history on the fight against HIV/AIDS.

What event or series of events led you to pursue nursing as a professional choice?

Genevieve M. ClavreulMy earliest memories of what sparked my love of nursing and, in all likelihood steered me towards choosing nursing as a career, would have to be my experiences in the French Red Cross. While a teenager living in my hometown of Paris, France, I served as a volunteer French Red Cross first aid worker. One of my most poignant memories was providing care to many victims and refugees during the Hungarian War for Independence in 1955. This tumultuous and trying time sparked a desire in me to help humanity, and nursing seemed the most logical way to accomplish this goal.

Name 1 or 2 specific challenges you have faced in your career in nursing and the steps you took to overcome them.

In Georgia after I completed both my Bachelor in Psychology and Masters in Education with emphasis on learning disabilities. I learned the hard way that it never serves a person well to acquire more education than their direct superior especially when that superior has a weak ego. This as head nurse of our PICU, I found myself looking for a new position outside my unit, my hospital and eventually my city. This search sent me to the frigid north and eventually sunny Southern California.

Can you give us an example of an interesting case or project that you have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?

I’ve had many memorable experiences as a nurse; one that stands out is the 1970 Diphtheria outbreak in San Antonio, Texas. Just a LVN at the time I was able to help our physicians identify the disease striking many of our pediatric patients. Diphtheria nearly eradicated in the USA was still a common sight in my native country of France so the symptoms presented by our young charges were familiar to me and I shared this with our staff physician. He later confirmed my suspicions and we began to treat and vaccinate the many pediatric patients that were soon admitted to our unit at Bexar County Hospital.

Unfortunately, our greatest sorrow was when we discovered several of the children we “saved” during the first round of the epidemic, readmitted during the second round due to lack of their parents following up on the necessary booster shots. Some we saved and some we didn’t.

This experience taught me that no matter if you’re nurse’s aides, a LVN or a RN your insights can be of great value to the diagnostic team. It also taught me that when your supervisor has faith in their team that they can delegate easily to their subordinates and that can lead the entire team exercising both their skills and knowledge to overcome even the most challenging of obstacles.

Can you describe what a typical day looks like for you or the activities you spend the most time on at work?

At present I’m out on disability due to a work related injury and am waiting medical clearance to return to work. During this period of time I’ve kept my skills sharp by taking continuing education courses, attending and monitoring my local Board of Registered Nursing meetings and other governmental and regulatory bodies, keeping up to date on current events and research that affects healthcare, nurses in particular, and advocating for nurses and patients living with chronic pain.

What aspects of your work do you enjoy the most?

Due to my current physical limitations I spend much of my time doing research on everything related to nursing in particular and healthcare in general. I enjoy being able to be an advocate for my profession and colleagues as well as watchdog of our local government ensuring that they meet our state’s open meeting laws, as well as educating citizen’s on how to hold our elected officials accountable. Doing this has helped me remain positive about my present condition as a person living with chronic pain and RSD. It also in many ways mimics the excitement and challenge that working with critically ill children in both PICU and NICU energized me. The adrenalines rush and reward of seeing a critically ill child or neonate go from “death’s door” at one moment to chuckling and smiling the next.

What advice would you give to new graduates for getting hired after graduation?

Be perseverant. Don’t expect to get your “dream job” right out of school, be willing to work your way up the ranks and realize that that might mean having to work the so-called less glamorous shifts, units or positions.  Think about volunteering at your local clinic, nursing home or similar workplace if jobs are scarce. Most hospitals today, unfortunately, are looking for nurses with acute care experience, which can make it difficult for a new grad because without getting hired on as a nurse they may have a hard time acquiring the requisite acute care experience.  Be creative, how about spending a few years as a nurse in an underserved community such as Native American health clinics and working for a aid organization such Doctors without Borders, Peace Corps, Operation Smile and other similar organization.

What is the key strength you bring to your career and how would you advise new graduates to mine their own strengths to further their careers?

I think that much of my success has to do with being raised by parents who themselves were not “traditional.” My mother was older when she had me and had a booming career as a turnaround expert for failing bakeries in Paris, France, which was a very uncommon role for a woman during the 1940’s. My father doted on me challenging me intellectually at all times. Teaching me to read the newspaper at a very early age, museum outings every weekend and so forth which lead me at an early age to constantly feed my intellectual curiosity.

Later as a young Army wife I moved constantly with my husband as we were stationed in various bases both in the US and overseas. I learned to perfect my English by watching such iconic programs as I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners and Mayberry RFD. I think these experiences made the building blocks that have allowed me to continually stretch and reach new goals whenever I’ve accepted another challenge.

If I were to share some words of wisdom with a new graduate it would be to never stop educating yourself, and not just in the traditional sense of going to college, but read like your life depended on it. Read newspapers, magazines, books, blogs, watch television programs all types including the news. Don’t limit yourself to just one-side of the story if you love CNN watch Fox News as well and vice versa. Travel whenever the opportunity presents itself so you can see how wide and diverse the world truly is. And if English isn’t your first language, as it was in my case, perfect your English by watching programing that has a lot of comedy because you know you’ve mastered your new language when you get the jokes!

We’d like to thank Genevieve for being so generous with her time and sharing her insights and advice with our readers. You can learn more about Genevieve M. Clavreul at Solutions Outside the Box.