As an Army brat, I grew up in a truly diverse community, with children of all skin colors, nationalities and religions. None of us felt different; we all just saw each other as friends. I was also very fortunate to attend nursing school at a historically black university. In addition to receiving an excellent clinical education, my school powerfully grounded me in diversity, inclusion, acceptance, empowerment, leadership and pride in my culture.
Looking back, I'm so grateful for the knowledge and positivity I gathered in my youth. I would need it to negotiate the challenges ahead.
Shortly after graduating and starting nursing practice, I sensed that my skin color caused discomfort for many of my Caucasian patients. I noticed that when many institutions held recruiting events, historically black colleges and universities like my alma mater were not invited to participate. As a leader in group discussions, some co-workers avoided looking at or addressing me. Once in my career, another senior leader said I lacked the talent to accomplish my job. Often, I heard inappropriate or even racist comments. Most were not meant in a mean-spirited way, but they hurt just the same.
Although my instinct was to push back when these events happened, I understood that doing so would be counterproductive. A Caucasian woman who holds her ground has a chance to be seen as strong and courageous. African American women know that same behavior will almost certainly earn us the stereotypical label of "the angry black woman."
I share my story not for sympathy, but for understanding. Every day, all over the country, patients and colleagues get treated differently because of their skin color, nationality, culture, sexuality or other characteristics that exclude them from the majority. Facilities that welcome and woo professionals from minority populations broaden their talent pools and make their facilities more attractive to diverse patients. Facilities that embrace patients who are different guarantee their spots for the future, as minorities make up an ever-larger portion of the population.
In my case, I was blessed to have 2 notable supervisors who saw my potential, mentored me and valued me for who I am. Buoyed by their support and my determination, I resolved to do 2 things. First, keep pressing forward, fueled by the desire to be a good example to my children and be the change I want to see in the world. Second, be true to myself and stay positive toward all.
I feel extremely blessed. I earned my MBA and was appointed director at a large children's and women's hospital. I'm now working on my doctorate of nursing practice, with a nurse executive focus. This April, I was thrilled and honored to be elected to AORN's national board of directors.
Diversity is one of AORN's core values, and I'm very happy that Outpatient Surgery Magazine is publishing this issue on diversity in health care. I also look forward to the day when such things are no longer necessary. Not that far in the future, everyone will be a member of a minority. It's my dream that one day my kids will live in a world like that of my childhood, where somehow we knew to celebrate our differences while always remembering that underneath we are all the same. OSM