Ebony J. Ford
#SpeakUp Healthcare Workers
Author: Anonymous nurse
I have been a nurse for only 1 year and 6 months now and I must admit that I’ve seen quite a bit of discrimination in my career and towards patients. When I first applied for my current position as a NICU nurse, I knew my job would come with some hardship... that’s just life honestly! However, I didn’t know that I would have to advocate for my African-American patients more than anything. I have seen physicians and other healthcare team members hold off on a baby’s plan of care because they either didn’t think it was that serious or they would literally make excuses. As a nurse, I made a promise to treat every patient equally and to be an advocate for them no matter what. After I started noticing a trend within the patients, their conditions and certain team members causing issues, I started stepping up more . As a new grad nurse, it was scary to do because I didn't have as much experience as the next nurse. However, I knew right from wrong. If I felt like there was more that we the healthcare team could do, I made it known during rounds. I would sit down and have conversations with parents to get their point of view to make sure we were all on the same page when it came to plan of care for their angel.
African-American parents voices are overlooked 90% of the time because physicians don’t take their opinions into consideration. It is truly sad to not only admit but witness.
When it came to beginning my career, I knew that I was going to face discrimination, especially since I was the minority in a predominantly Caucasian staff. When I was hired, I heard rumors of discrimination within the unit and how some lost their jobs because of it. I completed my year of nursing and was immediately eager to learn more and take care of the more critical patients. I wanted to learn how to think critically in a stressful situation. How can I learn if I never encounter these patients? My unit honestly doesn’t have a system when it comes to making assignments for the staff. It is usually based upon a “favorite” squad getting to choose their assignments first, which means that they usually get the sicker patients. And honestly, there's nothing wrong with a more experienced nurse taking the more critical assignment as they will know what to do. However, I feel I could take a critical patient and have a more experienced nurse as my next-door neighbor just in case I have questions or need help this way I can learn. I’m the nurse that doesn’t mind asking questions because I recognize that this is someone’s precious angel that I’m caring for so I must be prepared. Discrimination is shown through assignments and moving up in the chain for your career. I could become a Charge Nurse or even go back to get special certifications in neonatal areas. However, my unit has an unofficial “word of mouth” policy that you must be a nurse for 2 years before progressing to become Charge Nurse or get special certifications--although that's not hospital policy. I have also heard comments discussing the competency of a nurse based off of her predominately black features (lip shape, size, the way she dressed etc).
For this to change, I feel like 2 things must happen: we need more African-American nurses and physicians in higher positions of power and we need to start implementing policies against discrimination.
If we have more African Americans within the healthcare field I feel like it would be easier for us to connect with certain patients. We understand the struggle and what we go through. Don’t get me wrong, no one is perfect! However, I know certain physicians tend not to listen to a patient stating, “something isn’t right” or it’s too late when they finally do listen. We need more relatable physicians. On the other hand, policies against discrimination need to be implemented and enforced so that if broken legal recourse can be taken. I would like to challenge all of my fellow healthcare workers to use your voice to speak up against injustices, especially at a time like this. Many are afraid and alone in our facilities due to new COVID-19 regulations and could use our support.
I pray discrimination changes within the healthcare field and my main purpose is to make sure that happens. No matter the capacity, I WILL make a difference. And by advocating for patients and their families when they feel as if they aren’t given the best treatment, I already have.
This blog was submitted by an anonymous healthcare worker. To read more stories of discrimination and to learn what you can do to fight discrimination, subscribe to our blog and follow us on Instagram.