Meet two healthcare workers who have found power in partnership, galvanizing each other—and their thousands of Instagram followers—to take nursing in a new direction.
Investments in innovation and a willingness to forge new partnerships will help lift skilled nursing providers out of the COVID-era, predicts Donna Kelsey, a veteran nursing home leader who knows quite a bit about righting a ship.
A registered nurse and attorney, Irnise Williams, Esq., 35, was working as a travel nurse when, at the height of the pandemic, she decided to build a law practice to help service healthcare workers. Knowing she needed guidance on getting the word out, she enlisted the help of Tiffany Gibson, MSN, RN, 38, a nurse director for a school district in Philadelphia, who is also the founder of New Nurse Academy, a professional development consulting resource that teaches nurses innovative ways to grow in a rapidly changing industry, including social media strategies. While coaching from this self-declared “professional troublemaker” has been invaluable to Williams, it’s their resulting friendship that has been the game changer for them both. The story of their multi-pronged mentorship holds helpful takeaways for all of us, too.
I came across Tiffany on Instagram [@newnurseacademy] in September 2020. She does a lot of video content, and I found her voice to be very authentic. She’s an East Coast girl—very raw. It wasn’t like “I’m a professional; this is what I do.” It was “This is who I am.” I loved her ability to be her full, genuine self in a public and professional space. We talked all the time online but didn’t meet in person until April of 2021, when we were asked to speak at a nurse’s convention. We’ve seen each other almost every month since.
The Covid-19 pandemic pushed a lot of nurses away from the bedside and left them not knowing where to turn and what to do next. Irnise reached out to me to help her build a presence on social media [with @yournurselawyer]. She was also a budding entrepreneur, using social media as her primary marketing strategy. My one-on-one consultation grew into mentorship and eventually friendship.
Irnise: I loved the way Tiffany came across on social media, but I felt like people weren’t vibing with me in the same way. At my consultation, she said I was too serious and stiff. It hurt my feelings at first, but I knew she was right. After that, I made a huge shift in my social media presence, making it more about my personal experiences as a nurse. When I met Tiffany, I had less than a thousand followers. Now I have over 25,000. As I’ve grown, people in my circle are like, “Wow, this is beautiful to see.”
Tiffany: I told her that she needed to loosen up, be more authentic, and pull down that curtain. When I first started my Instagram account for @newnurseacademy in 2017, I was still working at the hospital as a clinical educator. So my presence was “the teacher.” There was no “Tiffany” or what I like. That’s when I realized the more I showed behind the scenes of my everyday life, the more my engagement increased. It made me a lot more relatable and showed people who I am outside of work.
Irnise: Nursing comes with a very specific identity. In a field where only 8 percent of nurses are Black, you feel pressure to conform to the identity of the group. And Tiffany was just like, “I’m from New York. I’m loud! Yes, I’m an educator. Yes, I’m educated. But that doesn’t define who I am.” That really attracted me, because I felt I had assimilated.
Tiffany: Our mentorship started with me helping her with authenticity, vulnerability, and social media strategy. Eventually, I hired her to be my attorney on retainer, helping me out with contracts. Irnise is really good with marketing and promotion; my specialty is storytelling and connecting with an audience. We hosted a sold-out brunch ’n’ learn in Houston recently; now we’re talking about doing them in Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Maryland, and possibly L.A. On social media, people recognize the two of us as a team—this dynamic duo. When they see one of us, they know the other is not far behind.
Mentorship is bidirectional. It’s symbiotic. What strengthens our bond is that we both have zones of genius we operate in. There’s no hierarchy. It’s not just“Now, you listen to me.” It’s the role of the mentee to take feedback and implement it. The role of the mentor is to help remove any challenges or barriers and to provide resources to the mentee. We’re now in a stage of our friendship and business relationship where we do that naturally for each other.
Tiffany: There are a lot of outdated nursing norms that need to be unlearned. My goal is to create a new kind of nurse with a new mindset. It’s why I call myself a professional troublemaker. I go against the grain on purpose. Who came up with this definition of “professionalism”? I’m a nurse director for a school district, managing six buildings and 12 staffers—and I listen to rap all day long and wear jeans with rips in them. I go out to the club. But I also know my professional background and the value I bring to the table.
Irnise: There is so much joy in being who you were created to be. I never experienced that until now, because I’ve always tried to be someone else. Tiffany taught me that people are either going to like you, love you, or not—and that’s okay. The people who don’t like you will always be there, no matter how hard you try to conform.