Diverse Perspectives & Advocacy

Being a Young Black Health Care Professional in Nursing

Ebony Thyme, RN, FNP
July 21, 2020
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My Very First Encounter with Racism as a Nurse  

I’m not going to lie, as a brand new nurse, I was totally oblivious to racism existing in the healthcare field. I guess I was more excited about becoming a new nurse and working in the hospital than considering the possibility of racism existing in a health care environment. 

I was ready to put everything I learned in nursing school to great use. I practiced how I was going to approach my patients: should I say, “Hi, my name is Nurse Ebony,” or “Hi, my name is Ebony?” I pictured which one of my new scrubs I was going to wear while working and which items I needed to pack with me to bring to work. I even practiced using my stethoscope numerous times. 

Despite all that preparation, not once did I think “What would happen if I encounter racism in the field?” until one particular moment. 

The Encounter

There was one day I went into a patient’s room, super thrilled, as per usual, but I was shocked to receive so much hatred in return. As soon as I walked into the room, the patient voiced, “It’s okay, I don’t need help.” I didn’t understand why; clearly the patient needed help, so why was she telling me she didn’t want any? I greeted her: “Hi, I’m Ebony. I will be your nurse today.” Everything went downhill from there. 

I found our encounter to be incredibly awkward, and there was very little communication between us. I also felt extremely uneasy but still had no idea why. 

Only later, I found out that my assignment was changed because the patient did not want a colored nurse taking care of her. While everyone who knew kept quiet and stared at me, one nurse told me directly, and I was left speechless.  

Being Black in the Health Care Field

Being Black in the health care field shouldn’t make a difference, but it does. Being Black in the health care field is not easy, because what it is is:

Knowing that I encountered racism from the moment I walked into my patient’s room.
Knowing that many have made the assumption that I am anything other than a nurse.
Knowing that I have been looked down upon by administration and faculty members because of the color of my skin. 
Knowing that while practicing, Black patients are not treated as equal compared to their white counterparts. 
Knowing that I have gone to a school and worked in a community where I struggled to “fit in.” Where I am observed, questioned, or “complimented” on my hairstyle in ways that truly made me uncomfortable. 
Knowing that research still continues to show that African Americans experience some of the WORST health outcomes as compared to their white counterparts. 

And yet...

I Choose to Work in Health Care

Please allow me to properly introduce myself. My name is Ebony. I have a little over seven years of nursing experience. I am a Black Nurse Practitioner who provides care to anyone regardless of race, sexuality, gender, or cultural beliefs. Regardless of lifestyle choices or financial wellbeing. I take care of the very young and the very old. Everyone is treated equally in my eyes. 

It is my duty to look beyond characteristics and do no harm. This particular situation stung me as a new nurse back then because not only was I not mentally prepared for any backlash, I did not know what to say, what to do, or how to react. 

How do you approach racism but still remain professional at the same time, especially as it is your first encounter as a new nurse? It took this particular day to make me realize that racism actually exists in the health care field; and, as with cultural beliefs, which weighed heavily on my nursing grade, I wish nursing school would have prepared me on how to deal with racism in the workplace.

Check out our event series Shift[ing] Forward, beginning July 28th, to educate, inspire, and connect nurses. From nursing careers beyond the bedside to tools for anti-racist allyship in healthcare, Shift[ing] Forward is all about bringing the nursing profession forward, together.

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