I could give you several examples of racism I have witnessed in my lifetime of nursing. But there is one incident that always comes up: Olisa.
Her name was passed down to her from her great-great-grandmother. Her name meant “God’s promise.”
Olisa came from a long line of nurses. Her great-great-grandmother was a nurse, nanny, and an enslaved person owned by some wealthy folks on their Southern plantation.
But the torch was passed on in her family for the love of nursing, one generation to the next.
Olisa was bright, funny, and the first in her family to earn a BSN.
There were tears from the entire family upon her graduation: nursing cap, diploma, stripes, and the valedictorian of her nursing class.
Growing up, Olisa always knew she would be a nurse one day.
After graduation and passing her NCLEX exams with flying colors, she entered a residency program for new nurses who wanted to specialize in intensive care nursing.
This was an aggressive, high-acuity ICU at one of the best hospitals in this southern state.
Olisa loved nursing, but through her journey in nursing school, it was the ICU that captured her.
Her dream was helping to save lives, to identify, report and implement the warning signs of a crashing patient and multi-system organ failure.
Olisa was good and caught on immediately. The staff loved her. The ICU physicians loved her. The respiratory therapists knew that it would be a good night when she was on duty, even if it was a night from hell!
After one year, Olisa was asked to be a charge nurse. With that came many responsibilities. Not only was she responsible for the nurses and their patient assignments, but she also had to be stellar in her skills and the policies and procedures of this critical care unit.
For three years, she was the charge nurse/staff nurse. She carried her name and profession proudly in honor of her family filled with generations of nursing.
Olisa decided she was competent and worthy to climb the corporate ladder in ICU, so she applied for an assistant nurse manager (ANM) position. But there was a new strange vibe in this ICU.
New nurses replaced the experienced ones. Management had sadly changed hands many times.
And her interviews for the ANM position were stalled and then canceled. Olisa received explanations: “We are looking for someone from the outside” and “We need someone with more experience.”
The excuses came one by one with upper management, and then she noticed her assignments and doing charge nurse had changed.
She was given two dangerously high-acuity ICU patients. Frequently. Somehow the camaraderie was lost on this team.
And then the whispers came — the degradation, the ethnic name calling, the intimidation.
There were snide chants of: “Go back to Africa.”
And as an accomplished and well-respected ICU nurse who suddenly was being questioned and second-guessed by her younger staff and upper management. Even the patients and family members seemed to express this negatively toward minority nurses.
Olisa knew something was wrong. But she asked some of the other nurses she had known from her mentor program if they were experiencing the same.
Interestingly, there seemed to be a higher percentage of disrespect to and disregarding nurses of color and ethnicities from Hispanic, Black, and Middle Eastern countries.
It was obvious that these minorities faced discrimination. Leadership and mentoring promotions were denied. And the nurses not only went to upper management but also reported their findings to HR.
A blind eye and disregard were blatant.
Olisa knew it was time to be proactive.
After interviewing at several different hospital systems, she chose a progressive hospital system that encouraged diversity, equality, and inclusion.
She sadly left what she thought would be her “professional home.”
Within several months at her new institution, her career blossomed. She became the positive and professional nurse that she always was. But because of the moral decay of the previous institution, she almost lost her way.
Olisa. “God’s promise.” She held her head high and honored the generations in her family who carried the torch for nursing.
She was proud of her stellar accomplishments — well earned and well deserved.
That shining star that she is could not be dimmed.
Debbie Moore-Black is a nurse who blogs at Do Not Resuscitate.
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