Updated: Feb 17, 2022
You’re a Nurse and Black
Hopefully, you stay and read, this topic might not be your cup of tea, but I challenge you to sip; this is an important topic that may be uncomfortable for many, nonetheless it’s a discussion that needs to be had! Hopefully, this forum sheds light on the importance of why black nurses are needed more than ever and not be taken out of context. Before I begin, I want to shout out all nurses during these trying times. Please know that you rock, you matter and thank you all because, without nurses, healthcare would be a disastrous shit show🙃. There are so many nurses who’ve helped pave the way for black nurses in America that goes back to slavery. Nurses have broken down barriers to allow minorities to be nurses. I will mention my top three and explain the importance and contribution they made to help integrate African Americans into nursing. African American nurses (AAN) are pivotal in the healthcare system and are helping to shape healthcare that benefits the African American population. Let's first rewind and discuss the history of black nurses!
1. Harriet Tubman- Hands down, one of my favorite nurses. She helped enslaved people escape and never lost a slave; she was also a nurse and many people are unaware of this. She aided soldiers during the civil war helped treat patients who had communicable diseases and was not infected while caring for patients. To me this is remarkable because a lot of soilders died from infections that can be treated today with antibiotics
2. Mary E. Carnegie- This nurse is goals for me!
She was an advocate for her patients, advocate for African-Americans, and she advocated for AAN. She fought for quality education for black nurses. She shed light on the disparities and social detriments that affect black nurses and helped open the gates for black nurses to have equal opportunities to pursue a career in nursing. She was also an author and you know I love a good book.
3. Mary Mahoney- Yes, Sis, yes! Let’s give Mary the accolades she deserves. Mary was the first African American nurse to graduate from nursing school and earn her professional license in nursing. Mary is distinguished for advocating for black nurses to have equal education and paving the way for nurses to have equal opportunities in the profession of nursin.
So why do black nurses matter? AAN are pivotal for the healthcare system and have helped and continue to help bridge the gap between health and social detriments that affect African Americans' health. This is pertinent for the health of African Americans and understanding how social detriments contribute to poor health. Some examples of social detriments include but are not limited to safe water, air pollutants, access to healthy food, racism, education, and more (CDC, n.d.) An example of this would be liquor stores on every corner, Flint Michigans water supply, poor education with low graduation rates, lack of transportation, limited access to healthcare. Without getting into the intricacies of how healthcare fails African Americans (we can talk about this another time) we need to touch on systemic racism in the health care system and how it stems back to slavery. African Americans have endured unethical practices such as the Tuskegee trial experiment Mississippi appendectomy, amongst other horrific practices that have caused mistrust in the healthcare system for many African Americans. Several studies prove African Americans do not receive the same quality of care as other races. AAN have an advantage and can utilize their voice to advocate for patients, fight for quality care for African Americans, equal healthcare, and safe and effective healthcare. Integrating AAN into healthcare will incorporate diversity in the healthcare system and helps dismantle racism and ignorance that is embedded in the healthcare system. So, where do you fit in? Let me make this clear; you are needed and valued! Please do not underestimate your worth and what you bring to the table to improve the quality of care delivered to African Americans. Use your voice, okay! If you made it through nursing school, you have the tools to implement quality care to all patients; that's not to say it will be a walk in the park but knowing why you became a nurse and what you have to offer is essential for your peers as well as patients. Understanding how social detriment influences communities' health and the disparities that minorities face is paramount. Being able to distinguish and comprehend the gap in health care that minorities receive compared to other races is essential in making sure that proper care is provide to all patients across the continuum of health care.
Preventative care and nursing education go hand in hand. I talk to my patients and build a rapport with each of them. I want them to be comfortable and trust me. Using your voice and educating patients on how preventative care plays a role in their health is crucial. Teaching healthy habits to patients, sometimes patients do not understand how a sedentary lifestyle can cause chronic health conditions, or talking about healthy habits can influence patients to take on a healthy lifestyle. Teaching patients to swap from processed meats to fresh meat or providing resources such as WIC or local farmers' markets are all ways we can help reduce disparities amongst African American people.
Again utilizing your voice is essential. Going to communities and assessing the environment, and bringing concerns to your mayor can bring significant change to the health of the community. I mean, let’s be Frank not all communities are built the same; however, African Americans that live in an area that has a high poverty percentage a lot of times equate to you seeing corner stores or bodega on every street corner, Chinese stores, liquor stores on every corner, lack of accessibility to transportation, hospitals, physicians offices, this is less than ideal for living situations so how does one change that? Go to the mayor, get petitions, advocate for your community or the community you work in. Making sure pregnant women have access to prenatal care and have postpartum services in place where a nurse can go to her house are all significant contributions to the health of the black community and patient.
Currently, we are amid a pandemic. Although it sucks, this is the perfect opportunity to show why AAN matters. If you look at statistics, minorities have the lowest rate of being vaccinated. Again a lot of this stems from distrust in the healthcare system due to unethical practices of minorities in the past. Educating on the importance of the vaccine or answering questions or debunking myths of connotations surrounding COVID-19 can improve trust between your patient and you.
AAN Can help build trust regarding the patients health and help them understand why the physician requires xyz. Trust in the healthcare system will help reduce chronic health conditions while increasing patients compliance. This action in itself can save lives. Building trust in healthcare for minorities is pivotal in early diagnosis, appropriate treatment, and preventing unnecessary deaths.
Tips for AAN
1. If you do nothing else, PLEASE DO NOT SELL YOURSELF SHORT (yes, I’m shouting). I’ve done it on multiple occasions, and you’re worth the extra $10 or $20 that companies willingly offer other nurses. I was a nurse for five years, and there was a caucasian man who was a nurse for five months; we both started out making the same thing; I was an RN and worked with a Caucasian man; he made $1.00 less than I did and was an LPN. The only person I could be mad at was myself for not advocating for my worth. It is imperative that you know your worth and understand that you are warranted and deserve to be compensated equally to your peers.
2. Research a job, look on Glassdoor; indeed, Facebook, bureau of labor and statistics (BLS), salary.com, pay scale, etc. This will help gauge what to ask for based on pay and overall the company. This includes but is not limited to a company’s compensation, work-life balance, company culture, management, job security, turnover percentage, etc. I see if jobs have had any negative publicity about the company from staff, patients, and individuals who are no longer with the company.
3. Further your education Sis/Sir! Don’t stop. Keep going even if it’s 2-4 classes a year; get those degrees. AAN is needed more than ever in healthcare, primarily to fulfill the need of APRNs, DNP, and FNP! I started as an LPN, did a bridge program (Excelsior college), got my associates signed up for my BSN, and am currently waiting to see if I get into a DNP program. I say all this to say it took me six years to get my Associates's degree. I procrastinated; however, once I had my Associates, I completed my BSN in 10 months which motivated me to go right back and get my DNP.
4. Use your voice!!!
There are so many amazing nurses who don't speak up for themselves. Listen, closed mouths don't get fed. Standing up for equality and quality care for your patients is essential. If you don't, then who will? If something is not right, say something and document. I sued one of my jobs because of how I was treated, and then my lawyer tried to convince me to settle for a low settlement; you know what I did, fired her and sued on my own and won. I use this example to say I documented everything. I pulled receipts up from years ago that I emailed myself when they occurred or texted myself, so I had a paper trail.
5. Be transparent with your patients! This is very pertinent due to the mistrust, abuse, and negligence that has happened to minorities in the past. Again you are needed
References CDC. (n.d.). Social determinants of health. https://health.gov/healthypeople/objectives-and-data/social-determinants-health
Best Regards, Deisaray Jones~RN ~ Reach beyond your Goals to Accomplish your Dreams!