Nurses need a supportive community to thrive in their field, especially nurses of color, mainly because of a lack of Black representation in the field. Caucasian nurses make up around 80% of the total nursing workforce, but Black nurses only comprise 6% of total registered nurses.
However, nurses are influential in advocating for minority communities and reducing healthcare disparities around the world. These same nurses are also ones who may still face racism at the workplace or struggle to find a sense of belonging with other nurses who share the same struggles, but that’s where these organizations can come in.
Black Nurses Rock is one of the largest minority nursing organizations in the country, representing nurses across the world with over 174,000 nurses and nurse students from the USA, Canada, the Eastern Caribbean, Japan, and Germany.
The organization also has an active online community on social media. Nurses who want to learn more or start with a nursing organization can join their closed Facebook group, a popular forum that shares advice and stories from nurses across the county.
If you’re a student, one of the benefits of becoming a member of Black Nurses Rock is that you can apply for scholarships, awards, and discounts on university tuition. There are also local chapters in over 25 states so that nurses can get connected and network.
Founded in 1971, the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) is one of the oldest nursing organizations, with over 200,000 members. They focus on ensuring their members have equal access to healthcare opportunities, education, and professional growth.
They have different membership levels for registered nurses, licensed nurse practitioners, and students, with benefits such as association partnerships with other federal and national organizations and speaking engagements at national conferences.
Members can also attend their annual summer conference to see exhibitors for employment opportunities and attend sessions with prominent speakers on diabetes, breast cancer, women’s health, cardiovascular health, and more.
Look at their chapter directory to see if there’s a chapter near you.
The National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations (NCEMNA) is a nonprofit made up of the largest five-member organizations for nurses:
The Philippine Nurses Association of America (PNAA)
Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association (AAPINA)
The National Alaska Native American Indian Nurses Association (NANAINA)
Its goal is to create a unified community with other nurses of color for more culturally appropriate health care and to foster alliances with other professional organizations.
Individual nurses cannot apply, but if you’re a member of any of the five member organizations, you can access NCEMNA’s resources through their sign-up page. NCEMNA is active in health equity and policy advocacy, and its annual conference centers around public policy solutions and speakers with experience in social justice and health disparities among the BIPOC community.
From July 26 to August 1, Black Nurses Week is a conference dedicated to uplifting the Black nursing community professionally and personally. Black Nurses Week was founded by Tauquilla Manning, a nurse travel leader who saw a need for an event like this after being told at work that her natural hairstyle was unprofessional.
Since 2022, the nationwide event has focused on business, health, and wealth, putting Black nurses at the center as they learn from nurse leaders on topics such as entrepreneurship, financial wellness, and healthcare. This year’s Black Nurses Week will be held in Washington, D.C., allowing attendees to attend sessions with nurse leaders, earn continuing education credits, and meet fellow nurses through daily breakfast and coffee breaks.
Black Nurses Meet is an online community and website for Black nurses to find resources and advice to help their careers. Black travel nurses especially can find this community helpful for sharing healthcare-related tips and advice online.
Their memberships are cost-friendly, with their lowest tier at only $25 for nurses and nurse influencers who want to build their content. For nurses who don’t like to spend money, their Instagram account offers tips on burnout and career motivation for Black nurses.
Although Black Nurses Meet is primarily active on social media, they also have in-person events such as their yearly gala designed for the professional community and their travel group trips with other Black nurses.
Gift-giving is a great hobby for some, but many nurses are tired and not in the mood to do holiday shopping. You might feel like you’re expected to search for the “greatest gift ever” for a Christmas gathering… even when we know the perfect gift doesn’t exist.
So, what are some alternatives to buying gifts when you don’t want to? Read on to find ways to find a great gift without spending too much time and money at a store.
Don’t Be Afraid to Go for an Easy Gift, But. Choose Meaning Over Value
When buying gifts for others, you often think they want something flashy or expensive. It might be because of our consumer culture or because we’re often taught that bigger is better. Whatever the reason is, more often than not, people value gifts that hold meaning for them.
Reframe what an easy gift looks like. Think of what the other person will value for a long time and what’s easiest for you. It doesn’t have to be an item— it can be a personal experience, such as a day trip to a concert, a nice dinner, or an escape room.
Or, if you don’t have any ideas, try a gift basket with items they like and use, like carry-on hand sanitizers or hand lotion.
Gift cards are acceptable, too. You can say, “Listen, I love you, but I’m tired this year. Here’s a $25 gift card to Amazon.” Or something along those lines, but in a genuine way to tell them that you put effort into the gift. This is a great option for younger nieces and nephews who could use extra money, especially if someone you know shops at Amazon.
Don’t Be Afraid to Regift
You might encounter a situation (like a holiday swap party) where you have regifted an item before. In some situations, regifting is fine— but be careful who you regift to. If you give to the same group of friends and family, someone might realize they got a passed down gift from two Christmases ago.
Think about the person who you’re gifting to. What do they do for fun? If they’re not into snacks, then they might not love the $5 caramel popcorn tin you snagged on your way to the shampoo at Target. But if they collect candles, they might like your unused Yankee candle that smells like marshmallows at a campfire.
It might not feel like an excellent idea to regift something you owned first, but if the item is new and you’re giving it to a close family member or a friend you know well, this is usually not a problem. Just ensure it’s an item you’re confident they’ll like or use. Other things to note when regifting are to make sure any name tags aren’t showing or if the item wasn’t handmade or personalized for someone else.
If you’re still having second thoughts about regifting, consider doing this if you have an extra item at hand to avoid hurting their feelings. That way, when they ask about the item, you can be transparent and tell them that you thought of them in mind when you received an extra one and wanted to give it to them personally.
Ask Them Directly What They Want
If all else fails, you can always ask for what they want. Some people might like a surprise gift, but it can be better to buy someone a gift they’re expecting so that they don’t get a gift they have to pretend to like.
This can help you save time to order the gift before the holidays. Plus, if you don’t like to gift-wrap, many online stores offer the option of preparing your gift in a gift box or bag.
Finding holiday gifts might feel stressful initially, but it helps to know that you can be mindful of who you’re gifting to. You can give away items they would prefer for a relaxed and low-key holiday.
Many nurses often decide to work in the profession due to their struggles in life, but few are willing to make a difference in their work based on their hardships.
Dr. Sharrica Miller, PhD, RN, has used her voice to speak up against injustice against Black nurses. She’s an assistant professor at Cal State Fullerton, where she serves as chair of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Student Engagement. Miller also owns her consulting firm and works with organizations to implement diversity initiatives.
Miller took the time to answer our questions about her nursing experience and how her beginnings as a foster child inspired her DEI work.
Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?
My life’s journey has been unique and full of challenges. After spending 12 tumultuous years in foster care and emancipating from my last placement in Compton, California, I went to Howard University, where I obtained my Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Let me tell you, it was a struggle! I lacked the academic and social skills to thrive and was lost and overwhelmed when I arrived.
After graduating, I worked bedside for over a decade in various specialties, including pediatrics, critical care, and home health. During that time, I obtained my master’s degree in nursing and most recently graduated from UCLA with my PhD in 2017.
What made you decide to become involved in nursing? Did your upbringing influence your decision to become a nurse?
I needed to make money in foster care to pay for school expenses, so I became a certified nursing assistant at 16. I was still unsure about my future until a family tragedy changed the course of my life. My father was involved in a drive-by shooting my senior year, just a few weeks before I was set to leave for Howard. I’ll never forget the compassionate care the nurses provided to my dad and my family, and from that moment on, I knew that would be my path moving forward.
How does your experience in healthcare influence your roles as a DEI consultant and assistant professor at CSU advocating for inclusive nursing environments?
My first job was in Long Beach in a pediatric rehab center, and I worked with many adolescents who were gang-violent victims. I had the opportunity to work at UCLA as a new grad, but I wanted to be in my community caring for patients who looked like me.
What makes nursing special is that we look holistically at the person in front of us and consider all the circumstances that led them to our care. Thus, having firsthand experience working with diverse patient populations has made me a more experienced DEI strategist and consultant because I learned early on always to remember the person behind the patient.
How have you been able to give back to the foster community? How do you feel when you know you’ve helped them achieve their future goals despite barriers?
Sitting in foster homes as a child, I made big plans about what to do when I grew up and have tried to live up to those goals. My work in the child welfare system has centered on transitional-age foster youth. These young adults between 18 and 26 are emancipating from foster care.
The transition to adulthood is difficult for anyone, but foster youth especially need more skills and resources to navigate the world successfully. I give back to the community by facilitating workshops for child welfare professionals to teach them how to better engage with this population and also by serving as a mentor. It’s a full circle moment when I see my youth succeed. I hope the little girl who made all those plans is proud of me.
What do you value most about your work for diverse nurses?
I value the look on Black nurses’ faces when they finally feel seen. These nurses are on the frontline dealing with discrimination and retaliatory behavior in the workplace, and now they finally see someone calling it out.
What advice would you give younger adults struggling in nursing school or the workplace due to past trauma or microaggressions they’ve experienced?
I would tell them you are the most important person in your life’s journey. You have to affirm, support, and believe in yourself. We tend to go through life looking outward for the answers, but overcoming trauma means getting to know ourselves and building ourselves up.
Dealing with microaggressions requires a different skill set rooted in emotional intelligence. Sadly, many Black professionals, particularly Black women, have to decide if they will stay low or fight for what they believe in. Both have potentially adverse consequences; one hurts our souls, while the other hurts our careers.
My best advice is practical. Build your expertise in various areas and develop multiple income streams to handle a particular employment situation. If you find yourself stuck in a toxic workplace environment, be ready to pivot to the next opportunity.
To learn more about Miller’s work, read her book on the life lessons she learned in foster care or follow her on Instagram at DocMillerSpeaks.
Britney Daniels, RN, MSN, is a Black queer ER nurse from Chicago who is passionate about social justice and healthcare equity. She’s also the author of Journal of a Black Queer Nurse, a memoir about her experiences navigating the inequities she faced as an ER nurse on the front lines of COVID-19.
Minority Nurse spoke with Daniels to learn more about her memoir and what she hopes readers can learn about what nurses of color experience at work.
What made you decide to enter nursing, especially in the ER?
I decided to enter nursing after being fired from my job as an ER tech for applying Dermabond to a patient’s laceration. Before being fired, I pushed back against attending school to advance my career. After losing my job, I quickly realized that I should be working to advance my education and professional career. I started my nursing career in the emergency department because I enjoyed seeing patients from different backgrounds of all ages. I did not want to limit myself to any specialty because I craved experience in all body systems.
Can you tell us more about your book, Journal of a Black Queer Nurse? What can readers expect from the memoir?
My book, Journal of a Black Queer Nurse, was born from years of journaling during and after ER shifts. It was important for others to view and understand my perspective on healthcare. The intersection of my identities gives me a unique perspective and experience with patient and healthcare professional interactions. Readers can expect to walk in my shoes throughout the book and truly understand the implications of being a racial and sexual minority in medicine.
How did it feel to publish your memoir about your experience navigating the COVID-19 pandemic as a Black queer nurse?
Publishing this memoir felt simultaneously liberating and nerve-wracking. The COVID-19 pandemic changed how we, as nurses, experienced our day-to-day workflow. At the same time, racial injustices and violence against Black people in the United States wore me down psychologically. Being able to share the stories that impacted my life so deeply felt healing and gave me hope that others would realize the importance of their unique experiences.
How has it felt navigating the pandemic? Did you feel like you had more pressures and responsibilities from your coworkers as a nurse of color?
I felt hypersensitive and hyperaware of everything happening around me. As a nurse, I feared contracting COVID-19 and being unable to work. As a Black woman, I was terrified of being pulled over or harmed outside of work because of my skin color. My coworkers during the pandemic were wonderful for the most part. I was surrounded by people who cared about me, valued my work, and respected me. However, a few coworkers made my job much more difficult during the pandemic by refusing to communicate or help me in difficult situations. It was a difficult time for so many reasons. George Floyd was on my mind, Breonna Taylor and the disproportionate number of people of color dying from COVID-19.
In your book’s synopsis, you gave your extra clothes to a homeless man during a shift. Can you tell me more about that?
I gave my clothing to patients on many occasions. Most were houseless, but some were in situations where their clothes were cut off for a rapid assessment. While working in California, I realized how drastic the wealth gap was. I realized that most people not part of a multigenerational household, multiple income households, or born into money could not afford to live comfortably in California. I quickly realized how fortunate and privileged I was as a travel nurse to afford housing, a car, and food. My responsibility as a nurse does not end when a patient’s symptoms are cured. My job as a nurse is to ensure the best possible outcomes for each individual I encounter. So if someone departs the hospital and does not have proper clothing, and the hospital does not have their size, I will give them my clothing every single time.
If you could have readers take one piece of advice from your book, what would it be?
It would be to lead with love in everything you do. In every encounter, in every situation. If you open your heart and mind to other people’s stories, you will better understand the why behind everything they do and say. We all have a story. And every single story matters. Yours too.
After going through the experiences in your book, do you have a new outlook on life? How does your life look different (if at all?)
I continue to go through these experiences to this day. Unfortunately, the world is still full of racist, homophobic, sexist individuals who need medical care. However, writing my book has started difficult and uncomfortable conversations that must be had. These conversations will be life-changing.
Where can readers buy your book?
My book is available for purchase at all major bookstores. It is also available through my amazing publisher, Common Notions.
Nurses have been front and center of every medical crisis, and after the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses were recognized as frontline heroes.
However, more nurses are stepping up and admitting that although they were able to save lives, the pandemic exacerbated unequal workplace conditions, which made their job harder, longer, and more stressful.
As a result, a safe space nurses joined to advocate for their needs was nurse unions.
Nurse unions have existed since the 20th century, but it wasn’t until 2005 that union membership among nurses started to increase, according to a 2010 article in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.
Since then, more nurses have become advocates to eliminate workplace violence, uneven nurse-to-patient ratios, and unfair hiring practices within the healthcare system. This is certainly true with the recent strikes in New York, California, Minnesota, and the U.K.
Strikes for Safe Staffing and Fair Contracts
Although hospital executives and management have set standards such as how many nurses can be hired and what benefits they get, nurse associations like National Nurses United (NNU) have fought to protect nurses’ safety when these contracts don’t reflect nurses’ needs in the workplace.
One issue that has been a significant cause of nursing strikes across the U.S. is safe staffing.
Many hospitals are faced with uneven nurse-to-patient ratios, which diminishes the quality of care among patients. This leaves nurses to make up for the lack of staff in hospital units through increased hours and fewer mandated breaks–and in turn, that can lead to more medical errors.
California is the only state to have mandated minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in all hospitals. Therefore, many would think that having a law to prevent understaffing already existed. Still, according to the President of National Nurses United, Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN, this was not the case.
Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN, is the President of National Nurses United
“Since beginning my nursing career, we have always fought for safe nurse-to-patient ratios. It was a lot of work, persuasion, and real-life stories about what happens to us every day in our work life that helped us show legislators that we need this because this is what’s happening in our lives day in, day out.”
However, there is no nationwide federal law for safe staffing. Triunfo-Cortez and other union nurses at NNU are looking to change that. In other affiliate states with NNU, nurses who are part of the organization also hold rallies to build awareness of the need for safe staffing and legislative laws protecting nurses’ right to organize.
“We will not stop until working conditions are a lot better for all of our nurses, no matter which state you are in, and it doesn’t matter which area of practice you are in. We’ll make sure that our nurses are well provided for in all areas,” says Triunfo-Cortez.
Ethnic Minorities and Nurse Unions
Nurses from minority backgrounds make up almost 20% of registered nurses, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Sadly, their representation among the nursing community compared to the population of BIPOC Americans remains small.
Many nurses of color feel discouraged in their workplace if their fellow nurses don’t look like them, so it’s no surprise that they can leave their jobs faster if they don’t receive support when they’re overworked.
Julia Barcott, the chair of economic and general welfare at the Washington State Nursing Association (WSNA), has seen this happen in her workplace. Barcott is an ICU nurse at the Astria Toppenish Hospital in Toppinish, Washington, an area with a large population of Hispanic, Filipino, and Indigenous tribes. She adds how she mentored four Hispanic and Indigenous bilingual nurses who experienced understaffing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Julia Barcott is the chair of economic and general welfare at the Washington State Nursing Association
“They went to college together, got their nursing degrees, and all wanted to serve their communities. They stuck it through the pandemic,” says Barcott. “Then, when things didn’t get better after the pandemic slowed, they realized that the hospital wouldn’t address the staffing issues. They were continuing to go on as if the pandemic was still here.”
Barcott explained that these nurses eventually left their jobs, despite receiving sign-on bonuses.
“You want to have racial equity and have people that look like yourself if you’re a patient that understands your customs and beliefs,” says Barcott. “These four young women were like that. They were a huge asset.”
Chronic workplace conditions such as these are some of the reasons why nurses of color join unions. However, systemic racism has also factored into why BIPOC nurses can be disillusioned with the profession. Dealing with discrimination as a nurse in the early 90s is why Triunfo-Cortez, a Filipina, decided to become involved with unionizing.
“I was applying for a transfer and was bypassed because the manager told me she could not hire more Filipinos. And so, at that moment, I thought, why should you look at the person’s ethnicity? You have to be looking at the qualifications, right?” says Triunfo-Cortez. “And so I became involved thinking that nurses need to speak up because this is modern history, and there’s still apparent discrimination happening.”
When nurses of color get involved with unionizing, they provide unique views on chronic healthcare challenges that others may not have. BIPOC nurses can also gain more accurate representation in a healthcare system where white-dominated opinions can be at the center.
Nursing Shortages Don’t Exist
While nursing unions can help bring awareness to unfair nurse-to-patient ratios and workplace violence, they also bring light to long-held beliefs about the healthcare system–like nursing shortages don’t exist.
“What we have is not a staffing shortage, but a shortage of nurses who do not want to work under unsafe working conditions because we do not want to be blamed for bad outcomes of our nursing care,” says Triunfo-Cortez.
Barcott mentions that some people with nurse licenses aren’t practicing as a nurse at all because of understaffing.
“There’s like 150,000 nurses in Washington. Less than half of those are working right now, but many of them are the ones that have active licenses. They are not willing to work in the conditions that are occurring now,” Barcott says. “They would rather not work as a nurse or take time off because they’re burned out, or they go do something different.”
Hospital executives and management often think of profits and business expenses more than the harmful conditions nurses experience daily. Some employers believe that to solve this retention problem. Then they need to direct more funds toward hiring new nurses.
For example, Barcott explains that it costs around $100,000 to orient a new nurse over six months. However, when hospital management and financial officers don’t address chronic workplace issues, these nurses leave faster, causing this cycle to repeat.
Nursing unions see this issue, which is why many lobby for legislation for fair staffing and safe workplace practices.
In Washington, the WSNA pushes for state laws to be passed supporting safe staffing standards, enforced rest breaks, and functional staff committees. Like the WSNA and the NNU, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) educates union nurses on worker rights. It helps them bargain for health benefits, higher wages, and paid holidays.
Using Unions to Make a Difference
When nurses of all demographics sit at the table to discuss fair workplace conditions, everyone, including patients, benefits from a better quality of care.
“It’s uplifting to know that most of our nurses are real and true patient advocates, not just by word, but in action as well,” says Triunfo-Cortez. “When you think alike and know that your goal and your mission are the same, then you will do everything in your power to achieve those goals because we know that if we all work together towards a common goal, it would be for the betterment of everyone.”
After the pandemic, more people now see that nurse unions exist and are here to stay. People not working in healthcare are picking up protest signs, while hospital management sees that there’s strength in numbers.
“I think that’s why membership is starting to go up in a lot of areas where essential workers were put in that position because that was the only that’s the only way we can collectively band together and express the needs of our patients. And it was only a matter of time,” says Barcott.
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