Diversity in the nursing faculty has been an ongoing topic of discussion. Over the last year, there has been a degree of discourse in the United States. Many universities created or are in the process of creating position statements for diversity, equity, and inclusion. The question is, why did we have to wait? Why not be proactive instead of being reactive?
At my alma mater, Norfolk State University, a historically Black university, I was welcomed with open arms, not just from the nursing faculty but all faculty. It resonates with the student and self-efficacy when they can see people who look like them, who have reached the goals they are attempting to achieve.
As an African-American nursing faculty member for RN, MSN, Nurse Practitioner, and DNP students, my goal is to help my students reach their goals. It is a bonus to help inspire a person of color that may not have felt the encouragement of their counterparts.
While I am here to make a difference, there still are challenges that I face as a doctorate-prepared professor, where I am not treated equitably. Researchers Christine Salvucci and Carolyn A. Lawless reported in the Journal of Cultural Diversity in 2016 that minority faculty of color have unique experiences, which has an impact on interpersonal relationships and the professional components of their career compared with White colleagues. In some of the articles that were reviewed, there was a review of topics that included “Insincerity and Putting You in Your Place,” “Invalidation of Sense of Self,” and “Unequal Standards.” As some of my colleagues of color and I have discussed and experienced these topics, the aforementioned topics resonate with me. There is increasing diversity in the students that are presenting to advance their education. How can we begin to retrospectively attempt to address diversity, equity, and inclusion for the students, and we have not properly addressed for the faculty? We have to do better. More research is required, and change is necessary.
Whether you’re a brand-new nursing student or a nursing graduate student earning an advanced degree, working with faculty members will help you get as much as possible out of your higher ed years. Sometimes connecting with and learning from faculty members is easier said than done, but forming bonds with your professors can help you in many ways.
If you’re wondering how to best approach faculty members you admire, who are in your specialty, or who teach an especially difficult course, there are a few things to remember.
Take the Initiative
Don’t be afraid to talk to them. As a nursing student, you know your professors are busy and some of them can even be intimidating. But they decided on a career that includes teaching because they want to help others succeed in nursing. Approach them when they are available—good times during scheduled office hours. Ask if they have time to chat or if setting aside more time would fit their schedule. Bring your questions about the work in class or even ideas for relevant and independent projects outside the course requirements.
Know What They Can and Can’t Do
If you’re excited to find a faculty member whose research or career trajectory mirrors your own interests, know they will probably be an excellent resource for you. They might be able to help guide you on important projects, your research direction, or the soft skills (like how to make a great presentation or communicate effectively with your team) that career nurses need to excel. They might be able to introduce you to other nursing professionals across the globe who you can learn from as well. Don’t expect them to find a job for you, but they might be able to steer you in a direction where you’ll find opportunities like grant information or job openings.
Meet Their Standards
Professors want to work with driven and dedicated students. They don’t expect you to perform miracles, but your efforts will have more impact if you ask questions when you don’t understand something, show up on time, and follow up on outstanding tasks. If you’re working on a team, pull your weight and contribute to make the group’s work better. If you’re working independently, produce work that shows initiative and a real interest in the subject and turn it in on time. Professors expect high-quality work from nursing students, so check everything twice.
Faculty members are in their roles so they can teach students, and they like to hear when a student appreciates their efforts. If a professor gives you an opportunity to present at a conference, participate in a paper, or follow a specific interest in a lab that’s not exactly part of the syllabus, be sure to thank them. A note or email is appreciated or you can just tell them how their encouragement made a difference and tell them “thank you for helping me.”
Keep in Touch
One of the special talents of many professors is their ability to remember students long after they have graduated. Often, you’ll find a moment in your career that reflects directly on a course you took and a professor who influenced you. Keeping in touch with professors who were particularly encouraging or knowledgeable is a great way to stay connected to people who changed your life and to build your network. You may even be able to offer something in return over the course of your own career.
Faculty members want to help their students. With some guidelines in place, approaching them can make all the difference in your academic work and even your career.
Teaching in the field of nursing is a rewarding experience and an opportunity to give back to nursing. Education in the faculty role allows for providing insight into current practices based on lived experience and present evidence-based guidelines. Overall, Caucasians and Asians are overrepresented in nursing in comparison to African American and Hispanic nurses, according to a study published in the Journal of Cultural Diversity. As a result of this disparity, there are also problems with equal representation of minority nurse faculty. Those considered faculty of color have continued to represent less than 13% of nursing faculty. As a nurse educator, I have a direct impact on one’s future practice when caring for patients. I am concerned about these known truths and have a few questions for one to consider:
Why is there not an equal representation of minority faculty when compared to the majority?
Are individuals given a fair chance?
It is a tedious process to complete applications for faculty roles and often discouraging to obtain feedback from an automated email generated message about qualifications not matching. I encourage all minority potential faculty candidates to increase their visibility in becoming part of a nursing faculty and continue to be persistent. There does need to be interest in nursing research to be considered competitive for some positions. There are overwhelming amounts of candidates with clinical experience as registered nurses or nurse practitioners. Students more than ever need to see someone who “looks like me” at some point in their curriculum with whom they identify with. This is important in ensuring self-efficacy is present throughout their program.
Often, the hiring process is screened by human resources and not nursing departments. Specific to nursing may be the change of having administrative involvement with applications submitted for faculty roles. Anyone who knows me both personally and professionally understands my passion for nursing education. A majority of my close friends have been convinced to give back to nursing in becoming professors. As an African American female, I disproportionately represent a minority faculty. I am grateful for my opportunities. However, we have more work to do in the recruitment and retention of minority nurse faculty.
Colleges and universities must consider diversity within the workplace, particularly for nursing. This is an initiative for the American Association of College of Nursing (AACN). Their initiative involved the inclusion of a diversity of both students and faculty in schools of nursing across the country. An inclusive learning environment can be shaped by the active recruitment of minority faculty. Should there be a representation of diversity in the hiring process, such as within a search committee? This endorsement by AACN is a step in the right direction in the solution to improving a diverse workplace and learning environment for students. Recognition is the first step in making strides to consider those who are minorities from diverse backgrounds.
Storytelling is the oldest form of education; storytelling has been used to communicate critical information about safety, recipes, teach lessons, remove bad habits, and explain events. In our various cultures we hear stories from our family members, in school, and at work. It is part of our oral tradition and how history is shared. I remember hearing stories as a child that explained why we have certain practices and why humans have internal ethical struggles. The lessons from these stories stuck with me in a way that made me evaluate my choices carefully when making a critical decision. When these tools are used to teach nursing students they can have a wondrous effect.
Storytelling and mental modeling often go hand in hand; when people are told of a situation or told a story, they will work out the process of that situation within their brains to see how the situation resolved or could have resolved if other steps were taken. The individual may go through different algorithms to work out the most correct path for the situation. This is a clear demonstration of critical thinking and may help with improving clinical reasoning in nurses.
Research shows that storytelling is a method of learning that can be transferred; students remember the “war stories” that their nursing instructors have told them about their clinical experiences. I can remember being told a story by an instructor about a congestive heart failure patient that she had that was receiving fluid and developed wet lungs and frothy pink sputum. She was so vivid in the way that she was describing the sputum that I never forgot to correlate strict intake and output with congestive heart failure patients. As a nursing educator myself, I have told stories of patient care that aligned with what I was teaching to the students to the students didactically and have later gotten a phone call or email from a student saying that they saw a similar case in clinical or in their practice and remembered what I told them.
Storytelling is an excellent method of instruction and provides auditory and visual stimulation to learners in a manner that connects to the concepts being taught to the students. And they provide an opportunity for reflection and transference. Telling a story in the right context that links to the concepts being taught may help the individual visualize the situation in their mind and then practice the concept/skill.
How are you using storytelling in your instructional practices?
“Stories are a communal currency of humanity.” —Tahir Shah, in Arabian Nights
One of the hottest topics amongst nurse educators today is finding strategies to promote safe learning in the classroom environment. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), it is estimated that over 73% of “nontraditional” students are studying in undergraduate nursing programs. The term “nontraditional” refers to all students who meet the following criteria: over the age of 25, ethnic minority groups, speaks English as a second language, a male, has dependent children, has a general equivalency diploma (GED), required to take remedial courses, and students who commute to the college campus. Nurse educators have a responsibility to ensure that all of their nursing students are learning in a safe environment.
For instance, microaggression is something that nurse educators must address in order to promote a safe classroom environment. Microaggressions are subtle, verbal and nonverbal snubs, insults, putdowns, and condescending messages directed towards people of color, women, the LGBTQ population, people with disabilities, and any other marginalized group. These insults are often automatic and unconscious in nature, according to Derald Wing Sue, PhD, author of Microaggression in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Microaggression can cause a person to question themselves regardless of whether the microaggression occurred or not because they were unsure if they were just being oversensitive to the offense or if the perpetrator really intended to harm them with what they said. Microaggressions are usually committed by “well-intentioned folks” who are unaware of the hidden message that is being transferred.
Types of Microaggression
Microaggressions are similar to carbon monoxide—“invisible, but potentially lethal”—continuous exposure to these types of interactions “can be a sort of death by a thousand cuts to the victim,” says Sue. He further outlines three themes in three microaggression categories. The three themes are: racial, gender, and sexual orientation. The themes appear to occur in three different forms of microaggression: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations.
Microassaults. Also known as “old-fashioned racism,” microassaults are conscious verbal or nonverbal attacks meant to hurt, oppress, or discriminate against the marginalized groups. This can range from telling racial jokes, name-calling, or isolating a student base on their racial, sexual, or gender identity. For instance, a student may deliberately refer to an Asian classmate as an Oriental. (Hidden message: You are not a true American. You are a perpetual foreigner in your own country.) Another example of a microassault is a teacher asking an African American male student, “Are you a first-time generation college student?” (Hidden message: African American males usually do not go to college.) Microassaults leave the students feeling unwanted, uncomfortable, and invisible.
Microinsults. A microinsult is an unconscious and unintentional discriminatory action against one’s identity. For instance, a teacher not asking a transgender student what pronoun to use when addressing the student (Hidden message: You are not acknowledging my identity.) Another example of microinsult is a teacher calling on an Asian student to come to the blackboard to work out a drug calculation problem. (Hidden message: All Asians are supposed to be good at math.) Or a student jokingly making the comment “that’s so gay.” (Hidden message: Being gay is associated with negative and undesirable characteristics.) A microinsult can also be nonverbal. For instance, when a white professor fails to call on the African American students in the classroom. (Hidden message: People of color contributions are unimportant.) Microinsults can have a far-fetching negative impact on a student, and they can affect a student’s motivation and commitment as well as mental health.
Microinvalidations. Microinvalidations are unconscious communications or environmental cues that faintly exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person’s identity. One example of microinvalidation is a student asking an Asian student, “Where are you from? You speak perfect English.” The Asian student replying, “I was born and raised in Florida.” (Hidden message: You are not American.) Or when a teacher continues to mispronounce the name of a student even after the student has repeatedly corrected the teacher. (Hidden message: I am not willing to learn how to pronounce a non-English based name.) Or a white science professor asking the male nursing students, “Why are you going into a nursing? It’s a female profession.” (Hidden message: Nursing is not “a real man’s job.”) Or the classic case of a white student telling her black roommate, “I don’t see color. There is only one race: the human race.” The color blindness offense is one of the most frequently delivered microinvalidations. Another example of microinvalidation is a student who unconsciously opens the door for a classmate who is in a wheelchair. (Hidden message: You are not able to independently take care of yourself.) The student should wait for the student in the wheelchair to ask for help if she or he needs it. Microinvalidation is one of the most harmful forms of microaggression because it leaves the victim feeling ashamed and asking themselves “Am I being oversensitive or paranoid?”
How to Address Microaggressions in the Classroom
Professors and students are the most common perpetrators of microaggressions in the nursing classroom environment. In the course of interaction, the professor or student may say something that offends a student intentionally or unintentionally. Since microaggressions are usually invisible to the perpetrator and may seem to have reasonable alternative explanations, the student may be left feeling uneasy and questioning themselves about what the implied message was.
Microaggression is processed in five different phases, Sue says. Phase one is the incident (verbal, nonverbal, or environmental). The perpetrator intentionally or unintentionally commits the offense. Phase two is the receiver’s perception of the offense. For instance, the receiver may ask themselves, “Was I just discriminated against?” or “Did she say what I think she said?” Phase three is the receiver’s immediate response to the offense. The receiver may respond by taking a defensive stand. Phase four is the receiver’s interpretation of the meaning of the offense. They may even ask themselves, “Should I say something?” or “If I say something it may make it worse.” Phase five is the consequence that may happen to the receiver of the offense. For instance, students may lose confidence in their ability to complete the course. Microaggressions can cause psychological consequences on the students over time, such as anxiety, depression, helplessness, and loss of drive, which can impede the student’s academic performance.
Therefore, the first step to addressing microaggression in the classroom environment is to acknowledge that it exists, says Jared Edwards, PhD, a psychology professor at Southwestern Oklahoma State University. Nurse educators need to get to know their students. You should be aware of their campus cultural environment and the specific challenges that your students from different backgrounds may face. Do not dismiss the classroom experience of microaggressions as “isolated” incidents. You should work with your students to create a safe classroom atmosphere by establishing solid ground rules and classroom expectations. You can incorporate open classroom discussions about microaggressions into your courses. For instance, have students conduct a group presentation on the impact of microaggressions in a classroom environment. This will promote teambuilding skills and communication and writing skills as well as help create awareness surrounding the common occurrences of microaggressions. Nurse educators need to be aware of what programs (e.g., student counseling center, disability services) are available on their campus so they can refer students who may need help dealing with the psychological consequences of microaggressions.
Nurse educators must be prepared to teach and advocate for culturally diverse students in a multicultural classroom setting. Additionally, they can show they value their students in many ways. For instance, taking the time to learn how to properly pronounce every student’s name can show the students that you value the student’s identity.
This month, New York University (NYU) Rory Meyers College of Nursing welcomed Jacquelyn Taylor, PhD, PNP-BC, RN, FAHA, FAAN, as the inaugural Vernice D. Ferguson Professor in Health Equity.
Taylor has already had a notable career. In January 2017, she was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers by President Barack Obama, the highest honor awarded by the federal government to scientists and engineers, where she will examine next-generation sequencing-environment interactions on cardiovascular outcomes among African Americans.
Vernice D. Ferguson (1928-2012) was a distinguished nurse leader, educator, and executive who championed the health of all people throughout her career. Ferguson, who received a baccalaureate in nursing from NYU, pioneered leadership positions for nurses and elevated the nursing profession through advocating for increased opportunities, respect, and wages, as well as fostering nursing research.
Taylor says it’s a tremendous honor to be selected to serve as the inaugural Vernice D. Ferguson Professor in Health Equity. “It is my sincere hope that the research I lead is as beneficial to the public as the work of the iconic Vernice D. Ferguson.”
Over the course of Taylor’s career her work has focused on health equity in Black populations for common and chronic diseases such as hypertension, both in the United States and in Africa.
“African Americans have the highest incidence and prevalence of hypertension than any other ethnic group in the U.S.,” says Taylor. “In particular, African American women have the highest incidence and prevalence of hypertension than any ethnicity or gender. Understanding the genomic underpinnings and social factors that contribute to this disparity can help providers to intervene early in life to eliminate such disparities. On a personal level, my father had hypertension and had a stroke, and my mother had cardiovascular complications as well. I would like for the work that I do to help others to avoid these complications.”
Another primary goal for Taylor is to study the genomics of lead poising in Flint, Michigan. She says the purpose of this project is to better understand the harmful effects of chronic lead exposure, the psychosocial insults of the Flint water crisis, and the underlying omic mechanisms involved that may contribute to increases in blood pressure in this already at-risk African American population in Flint.
“An intergenerational, multi-omic (genetic and epigenetic), and psychosocial approach will be utilized to understand one of the major symptoms of chronic lead exposure—high blood pressure—among African American families in Flint,” Taylor explains. “This research will provide critical insights that will add a layer of functional outcomes for health providers to best understand, assess, and intervene with tailored treatments based on an individual’s unique environmental, omic, and psychosocial profile and will help in mitigating long-term cardiovascular and other health risks.”
Taylor says her primary goal during her professorship is to continue to build on the work she has done in omic-environment interaction studies among minority populations by utilizing multiple advanced genomic techniques and expanding to more minority populations across the USA and abroad.
“I would also like to expand my reach as a leader in nursing science by taking on a more key administrative role that will aid in building up the next cadre of minority nurse scientists.”