Raising their voices – U of T Nursing Alumni give nurses platform for change with The Gritty Nurse Podcast

23 February 2021

Photo of Sara Fung and Amie Archibald-Varley with overcast sky in background

Sara Fung (left) and Amie Archibald-Varley are giving nurses a platform to share their expertise.

Nurses are afraid to speak out. Whether it is to address bullying in the profession or take action to focus on mental health and anti-Black Racism, a pervasive culture of silencing keeps nurses from having a voice. Amie Archibald-Varley and Sara Fung, two advanced practice nurses, wanted to change that. So, in December of 2019, they launched The Gritty Nurse, a podcast dedicated to taking a deep dive into the “grit” surrounding issues facing nurses and the profession today.

“If you want to see change you have to be the change,’ those were the words of one of my professor’s and they have stuck with me to this day,” says Archibald-Varley, a graduate of the Master of Nursing (MN) program at the Lawrence Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing.

Co-host Sara Fung, also an alumnus of the MN program agrees, “Nurses need a platform and a voice, and we wanted to give them that,” she says.

Both Fung and Archibald-Varley are quick to point out that very few nursing voices are being heard from in traditional media, especially throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. They are also cognizant of the fact that many nurses can get lost in focusing on their role at the bedside and don’t see themselves as change agents.

“We have had a hard time getting people to be guests. There has been a common perception that something bad was going to happen with respect to their career. We want to change that mentality,” says Fung.

“There are so many physicians speaking with media, but we (nurses) have a lot to offer as well,” adds Archibald-Varley. “We want and need a seat at the table because our perspectives can impact system level change.”

Now, it seems like they are finally being heard. In recent months, The Gritty Nurse podcast has gained an incredible amount of support and media attention, as have the two co-hosts, with interviews featured in national media outlets and a recent op-ed in Chatelaine. Archibald-Varley was also asked to co-moderate a healthcare and community partners national panel with Dr. Kaplan-Myrth, the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, and Minister Patty Hajdu.

Listen to the latest episode from The Gritty Nurse

U of T Nursing communications spoke with Fung and Archibald-Varley about how they started, how it’s going, and how it feels to see some results from their advocacy work.


What was the spark behind the creation of the podcast?

Amie: The real impetus was silencing. There is a huge issue with respect to silencing in nursing and it stems from a variety of areas but also is closely related to bullying in the profession. We found ourselves centering our podcast around that issue in our first few episodes because we wanted to talk about things that matter to us.

Sara: Amie and I have experienced instability and bullying throughout our careers as nurses, so it was therapeutic to share that through the podcast. In those first few episodes we talked about why we became nurses and ways you can deal with bullying. We always aim to have takeaways at the end of each of our episodes, so that our audience can learn about ways they can change the culture of nursing. I really see our podcast as supplemental learning to what you do in nursing school or out on the job.

Amie: Nursing has not had a voice in a lot of different realms. We wanted to bring that to the forefront. We talk about women’s health, women’s rights, gender discrimination, social justice, anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism, and topics that we can not ignore when it comes to equity in health care.

Sara: As for the title of our podcast, Amie was the one who suggested the word “Gritty.” We wanted something to show our strength in overcoming struggles, perseverance, and an accurate description of our personalities! From a branding perspective, we did a search and no one else had taken the name and it was also easy to remember. When starting a podcast, the last thing you want is for someone to confuse your show with another.

Did your time at U of T influence your podcast in any way?

Sara: The MN program has opened a lot of doors for me and impacted how I think about advocacy. I also had mentors like Professor Cindy-Lee Dennis who showed me it was possible to maintain balance as a working parent. We learned about the importance of advocating for your patient, it is difficult to think about advocating for yourself. I think that is the elephant in the room in nursing and it has influenced our topics of choice for the podcast. We want to be role models for nurses and demonstrate that there is a way to speak up that is not going to get you fired.

Amie: I would agree that the MN program broadened my perspective, it taught me a different way to critically analyze and synthesize information that is important when it comes to advocacy work. Some of my professors influenced my drive to continue the work that I am doing now. They taught me that no one should silence me. I have the rights and freedoms to say what is important, even when it is difficult. As a graduate student that had a real impact on me.

What is your creation process like and how has it evolved in response to Covid-19?

Sara: We have a triaging system. We use a running document to see when it might be a good date to release certain episodes, or someone might approach us with an idea. Our goal is to bring content to listeners that is relevant.

Amie: This is not a podcast about scientific data, we are storytellers. We talk about the challenges of being a nurse and about things you cannot find in a textbook. We are original and fresh, and we want to keep it that way, so our content reflects that.

Sara: Throughout the pandemic, we have found ways to record remotely, and our guests from all over the world have also been able to adapt. For a little while, we were not even sure whether we should talk about Covid-19.  We went through a period where we took a step back from that kind of content because it felt like it was everywhere, and nurses were overwhelmed. But, in the fall, we were getting more followers and listeners, so we felt it made sense to talk about Covid-19 again. But we did not want this to be a podcast just about the pandemic.

Amie: We discuss the effects of Covid-19 on health care and its impact on equity including the effects of systemic racism. Everyone is tired of the pandemic, but there are important things to pull from and talk about including how nurses need to be present as decision-makers. We thought that with the pandemic things would slow down for us with respect to the podcast, but it has only gotten busier.

There has been a lot of media attention in recent months, what has this been like for you both?

Sara: The best way I can describe it, is that it is as though we are on a high-speed train, and everything is just zipping by. On the weekend, the train might stop for a while but then we get right back on. I don’t want the media interest to slow down, but if it does, it will give us a chance to absorb what has happened in these last few months. We are getting lots of amazing feedback from our listeners and it has given us an opportunity to spruce up our website. It’s wonderful to know that people are really listening, and I think this is opening the door for more nurses to be more vocal.

Amie: It has been a whirlwind but like Sara says, I think we are okay with that. We wanted this. As much as there are physician experts called upon in media to discuss issues like paid sick days, and health care worker burnout, or vaccine access, nurses are experts in our field too. That is how we got our first media appearance, I put it out there on Twitter, “has anybody asked a nurse?”

A lot of the work we are doing is free and we are aware of that especially as racialized women. Moving forward we would love the opportunity to turn our advocacy towards speaking engagements, visits to colleges and universities, and other ways we can continue to advocate with some financial support.

Is there any advice you might give to nursing students who are about to graduate?

Amie: Show grit and determination. You are not just a nurse, you are much, much more. You are not alone in the struggle, and it is important to find people who will support you. No one said it was going to be easy, but there are nurses in the profession who are great people and wonderful role models.

Sara:  Try to find out who you are in this world of nursing. It is okay to carve your own path.  You won’t just find your purpose through your clinical work, there is a significant opportunity to learn about what is happening in the communities around you. Learn about issues affecting Indigenous people, and anti-Black racism, and mental health, don’t just check in and check out for your shift. Change is not passive you have to do the work.