What better time than National Nurses Day to call out important leaders within nursing? And as a platform for minority nurses, Minority Nurse wants to pay special attention when a minority nurse advances to a leadership role.
Lindsey Harris, DNP, FNP-BC, was recently elected to president of the Alabama State Board of Nursing and will be the first African-American nurse to lead the board in its 125-year history.
The significance of the election isn’t lost on Harris. “This makes me feel I am living my passion,” she says. “It makes me a little nervous, too. I have big shoes to fill.”
Harris says she finds a nursing career a definite calling. “I chose nursing because I always had a passion for helping others,” she says. “Being a nurse is one way I can help others when they are in a vulnerable time of need.”
But Harris also sees education as a big part of a nurse’s role and looks forward to having a bigger voice in the nursing industry to help spread the word about education. Because nurses teach patients and the general population about their health, about taking care of themselves or loved ones, and about prevention, their practice encompasses more than just a specific illness or injury.
“It is every aspect,” says Harris. “It’s about the physical, emotional, and spiritual.” And Harris says her own decisions have been led in part by her own faith and spirituality. “For me, I just feel God has put me on this earth to do something bigger than myself,” she says.
And for Harris, one of her biggest drives and skills is being what she calls a “connector.” When a student needs a preceptor, she can scan her network and help connect people. When a patient needs an appointment with a specialist but isn’t sure where to go, Harris can get that all moving.
And being elected the first African-American nurse president of the organization makes her feel good. “It’s important being an example for African-American women and showing them they can do this,” she says. “They can be leaders.” Harris plans to use the platform to help bring nurses in the state together to unite their voices. “We have 100,000 nurses in Alabama,” she says. And many varied nursing associations represent these nurses including the Birmingham Black Nurses Association and Central Alabama Nurse Practitioners Association, both of which Harris is also a member of. “Imagine if we all came together and had one voice,” she says. “We could make real decisions about moving nursing forward.”
Some of the more pressing issues Harris sees is the mounting healthcare crisis that intensifies with each hospital or facility closing. “Access to healthcare is significantly decreased,” she says, noting some people have to travel for hours to reach a facility when the closest one to their location closes.
As a minority nurse, Harris found joining professional organizations to be an excellent way to connect with other like-minded nurses and to make a difference. As for the Alabama State Board of Nursing, Harris says they can make an enormous impact on nursing legislation and policy. “We are the voice of nursing,” she says. Increasing the membership numbers is one of Harris’s goals as is building strong connections within the nursing community and reaching out to the organizations that touch on nursing issues and patient care.
“Nurses are dealing with so much more,” says Harris. “The good thing is there are new advances and opportunities for growth within nursing. They can do anything and can work in hospitals, schools, factories … there are so many opportunities for nurses. And it’s so rewarding when a patient says to you, ‘I can tell you really love what you are doing.’”
Let’s rewind back to the summer of 2014. I
was in the midst of my senior year of nursing school taking classes, working,
and doing my best to survive the New York City summertime heat. While working
on an assignment one evening, my mother called me to say that my uncle had been
in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. He was put onto a ventilator and had to
endure an extensive hospital stay. This news was incredibly upsetting and
unexpected. I have always been close with my uncle and couldn’t help but feel
I pushed on through my classes and day-to-day routine, but I noticed that I was suddenly sleeping more, eating less, and often feeling unfocused and unmotivated. I chalked it up to stress from school and work, especially since it was my last year and I was expected to graduate that upcoming spring. Reaching out for help was a fleeting thought, and I firmly decided that I could handle these feelings on my own.
Turns out, I was wrong. Feeling down, unmotivated, and overwhelmed consumed me. I received a C minus in one of my summer classes, which coupled with a C minus that I had received earlier in my nursing school career. For a while everything felt so slow, but suddenly it was as if I were thrown into a time-lapse getting caught up with reality. I frantically reached out to my academic advisor who monotonously told me that if I was struggling with a personal issue I should have spoken up sooner and that two C minuses are not acceptable in the program, but I could speak with my professor directly about the grade. There was hope. Except there wasn’t, because my professor would not budge on the matter. With that being said, I was kicked out of nursing school the fall of my senior year.
My recently furnished dorm room had to be dismantled—clothing back in suitcases, photos taken off the walls. I had to say goodbye to my roommates who were confused and concerned. I had to say goodbye to my friends of four years. The reality that I would not be graduating after years of hard work crushed me.
I experienced panic like never before. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, couldn’t feel anything but my lungs constricting. I felt like I was going to explode. A counselor diagnosed me with both panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
I moved back home and tried to figure out what to do next in a frenzied state. No nursing school would accept someone who was dismissed for poor academic performance. The panic attacks only got worse. I was having them at least three times per day. Most people would have given up at this point and settled for less, but I had always known that nursing is the only career I wanted for myself. I would not settle, no matter how much I was hurting, no matter how impossible things seemed.
I began seeing a regular therapist in an effort to get my life back on track. Things seemed to be improving. During the winter of 2015, about four months after my dismissal, I was driving home from a therapy session down a road I’ve known my whole life. Suddenly, a car pulled out in front of me, taking me off-guard. I slammed on my breaks, but it was too late. I smashed into the car head on. My insides were screaming panic, but I couldn’t move. Bystanders got out of their cars to help, but my doors were locked and could not be opened. People were asking me through my window if I could move my legs and I didn’t know if I could. I heard sirens and thought to myself, “I have to be dreaming.” Paramedics had to cut through the top of my car, hoist me out, and strap me to a board that was put into the ambulance. More panic.
Though I questioned my faith during that time, I thankfully left the hospital banged up and bruised, but not detrimentally damaged. I sustained a treatable back injury. After my recovery, I applied for a job at an urgent care clinic because I wanted to maintain medical practice in my life. I thought it would help, both with my practice as a future medical care provider as well as my emotional state. I was happy to get the position, but that meant having to drive again. During that period of time, my drives to work consisted of multiple instances of having to pull over and having countless panic attacks. But I got there. I kept up with both my therapy sessions for the anxiety and physical therapy for my back.
That spring, I attended the graduation ceremony of the friends I was forced to leave behind. I can’t begin to describe how happy I felt for them. At the same time, I worried that they would end up leaving me behind. I felt that in a way, they already were. I felt awkward being with them in public because I didn’t want people from outer circles asking questions that I was too embarrassed to answer. I didn’t know how to fit in anymore with my best friends. This caused panic that I cannot forget.
Rather than closing in on myself, I mustered up the courage to apply back to the same nursing school that I was dismissed from for entrance the upcoming fall semester. I was asked back for an interview, which I graciously accepted and prepared for rigorously. On the day of my interview, I walked into a familiar building unable to control my shaking body. As I sat across from my old professors, I was asked what will be different this time around, should they allow me back. I told them the truth. I spoke about my journey dealing with anxiety and ways that I am now able to manage it, though it goes without saying that it is challenging. I highlighted my relentless drive to be a nurse, and that if the past year wasn’t enough to stop me, then nothing ever could. I was accepted back into the program; my faith was slowly being restored.
I was taking classes with students who had known each other their entire nursing school careers. I also struggled to grasp the material at first, being that I was rusty from having to take time off. I felt disoriented and like an outsider, but I didn’t let that distract me from achieving greatness. I made the dean’s list at the university that only a year ago had told me that I wasn’t good enough. I eventually made friends with my classmates and strengthened the relationships with my old friends.
That May, I graduated proudly. All my friends and family were there to support me. Panic took the backseat.
After passing the NCLEX, I worked in a couple of different clinics and health systems gaining invaluable experience. Despite my fear of rejection, I applied and was accepted into a master’s program for midwifery. I now happily work at a fertility clinic and am excited to graduate the midwifery program stronger than ever. I have discovered my interests within the nursing field, which include researching the United States’ shockingly high maternal mortality rates and normalizing breastfeeding, especially among women of color.
Now, I have been invited to become a member
of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. Once more, I
have to ask myself whether I’m dreaming, only this time it’s under completely
different circumstances. I won’t lie, a sense of underlying anxiety persists
within me, but I can now recognize that I have valuable coping mechanisms that
I have learned through therapy, a group of friends and family members who are
my rocks, and a sense of proudness and empowerment in what I have accomplished
that cannot be taken away. I am eager to make my mark on the field of nursing.
I can’t wait for what will come next.
Workplace culture can be a hard-to-define concept, but it nevertheless affects every minute of your working life. Culture encompasses elements such as business values, management styles, physical environment, and even dress codes. Each hospital has its own unique culture that you’ll have to adapt to whenever you start a new job. Here are eight tips to help nurses acclimate to a new workplace culture:
1. Pay attention during orientation.
At the start of each new job, you’ll probably have to attend some kind of orientation or training for new hires before you can grab your nursing bag and start seeing patients. Even if there’s not a presentation that explicitly describes the culture and values of your new employer, you should have a good grasp of what is expected by the end of orientation. While culture has many layers that go far beneath the surface—each nursing unit has its own individual way of doing things, for example—wrapping your mind around the facility’s overall culture will give you a good framework for figuring out what does and doesn’t trickle down into your unit.
2. Observe how others behave.
Especially during your first days on the job, keep a sharp eye out for your coworkers’ behavior and watch how they interact with each other and supervisors. Do they engage in small talk as they walk together, or is everyone all business, all the time? Are they warm and friendly with the nursing unit manager, or do they hang back and treat them with deference? While some of this will depend on the personalities of your individual coworkers, observing this behavior will give you examples to fall back on as you start to build relationships at your new workplace.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
However, sometimes you won’t be able to glean everything you need to know from observation alone. Maybe your coworkers act totally different with two different supervisors, or one person in your unit hardly talks to anyone else unless necessary for unknown reasons. When it feels natural, you can ask your coworkers for more details in a non-nosy way. This also goes for procedures and other non-people related matters. If the unit does things differently than you’re used to, don’t hesitate to clarify what the preferred process is. Better that you ask for clarification ahead of time than try to puzzle your way through and mess things up.
4. Try to withhold judgment and assumptions.
Every workplace, including hospitals and other facilities, have their quirks. Especially if you’ve worked in several other facilities before, these idiosyncrasies might seem annoying and downright strange—but there’s often a reason for them. Instead of dismissing these quirks outright or grumbling about them, try to withhold judgment at the beginning and seek out underlying reasons. Maybe that unsociable coworker is dealing with a sick parent or child, or the “high strung” supervisor is under a lot of pressure from higher-ups. Even the most off-the-wall behavior often has an explanation if you look deeply enough.
5. Don’t constantly compare things to your old job.
Speaking of comparing your new job to your old one, don’t do it–at least not out loud. It’s super annoying to have a coworker who won’t shut up about how great their old employer was and how they did everything much better than their new facility. This behavior is not just bad for unit morale, it also won’t do you any favors as you try to build relationships with your new nursing coworkers. Just like your mom used to tell you when you were a kid: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it all.
6. Be judicious with vertical relationships.
Whether you’re a supervisor or a director report, vertical relationships can make or break your work experience. If you’re a supervisor, the performance of your team depends on your nurses. On the flip side, your supervisor holds great influence over your career as a nurse. Whatever position you will be in, try to figure out supervisor-direct report expectations early on in your new job. In an ideal world, your new employer will encourage close, supportive relationships between supervisors and nurses, but this isn’t always the case. The earlier you figure out the lay of the land, the sooner you’ll be able to start mapping out a plan for your career and your team.
7. Acknowledge your mistakes.
No matter how careful you are, you’re bound to make some slip-ups at any new job. When you do make a mistake, own up to it rather than trying to hide it and ask for pointers on how to do things better next time. See each mistake as a learning experience and an opportunity to grow as both a nurse and an employee. Apologize if necessary, and try to find humor in the situation when appropriate. Your coworkers will appreciate that you don’t take yourself too seriously. There’s no use crying over spilled milk or stained scrubs, so if the mistake is small in the scheme of things, try not to dwell on it and focus on moving forward.
8. Educate rather than accuse.
Sometimes, you’ll be on the receiving end of a mistake rather than the instigator. Maybe a new coworker calls you by the wrong name, or makes assumptions about you based on your appearance. While this isn’t okay, try not to assume the worst and jump to conclusions about ulterior motives. If you can, gently but firmly correct the other person while offering them an out like so: “I know names can be tough to remember sometimes, but just so you know my name is actually _____.” You won’t earn any points for being combative from the start, so do your best to be gracious and understanding when you start a new job, even if you want to be anything but.
Starting a new job can feel like entering a black box, but if you keep your ears and eyes open, you’ll quickly pick up on expectations and values. Follow these eight tips to help you adjust to a new work culture as you ease into your new nursing position.
On January 1, 2019, Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN, became president of the American Nurses Association (ANA), the first man ever to hold the position. As a minority nurse trailblazer with more than 30 years of clinical and leadership experience, he was well equipped to break one of the remaining glass ceilings in nursing.
Grant, who holds a PhD in nursing, headed North Carolina’s nationally renowned Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, where he started as a staff nurse in 1982. He has deep roots in the area, having earned his bachelor’s from North Carolina Central University and his master’s and doctoral degrees from UNC-Greensboro.
An internationally recognized expert on burn care and fire safety, Grant was presented with a Nurse of the Year Award in 2002 by former President George W. Bush for his work treating burn victims from the World Trade Center site of the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Grant won the election by an overwhelming majority of votes from his colleagues after having served as vice president of the ANA and being an active member for decades. The organization has served nurses for 122 years, and now represents more than four million registered nurses nationwide.
Grant intends for his appointment to help unravel stereotypes about men in nursing. He plans to use his term to address some of the most pressing issues in the field, such as a looming nursing shortage that more inclusionary educational recruiting practices could alleviate.
We interviewed Dr. Ernest Grant to learn more about his historic election as ANA president and what the future holds for the association under his leadership.
ANA President Ernest Grant
Photo credit: Max Englund/UNC Health Care
What are your top priorities as far as encouraging more diversity in nursing?
Increasing gender and ethnic diversity in nursing is one of my top priorities. A nursing shortage is expected as the general population is aging, and experienced baby boomer nurses are retiring. (Projections are that 500,000 seasoned RN’s will retire by 2022, and 1.1 million new nurses will be required to replace them.) There are ways we can avoid this [predicated shortage], which include recruiting more men into nursing and increasing diversity across the profession.
How will you encourage greater diversity in the nursing profession?
There should be more people of different backgrounds entering the profession so that it reflects society. One way to achieve this is through better access to scholarships and other educational and community resources. People of all ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds must know what’s available—that there are federal loans geared to nurses, for instance.
A nursing assistant may not be aware that taking courses at a community college is possible or that an employer may offer tuition assistance. But the stumbling block is not always money; it could be having young children or home responsibilities. Online training or resources in the community that pay for child care would be the solution then.
What would encourage more men to pursue the nursing profession?
Men are joining the profession. Seeing someone who resembles them in the health care system has helped empower them to become nurses. Promoting images of men in nursing needs to begin early, starting at the grade school level and letting boys see men who are nurses. “Here’s somebody who I can identify with,” they will think. Then at the high school level, it gets reemphasized by a guidance counselor or health occupation program. In those programs, they can get certified as a nursing associate, and obtain more exposure to nursing.
Currently, 9 to 13 percent of nurses are men, but when I started it was much less. (Probably it was only 3 to 4 percent.) Several things are contributing to the increased interest, including increased representation in advertising and the media. Another is men who served as medics in the military but then unfortunately don’t [immediately] qualify for any nursing jobs. There are some accelerated nursing courses nationwide for former medics. In my state, they can choose nursing school, PA school, or medical school—all are good options for our military folks.
How did you get interested in nursing and decide to make it your career?
I grew up in a very poor community, as the youngest of seven, and my father died young. It took a village. Everyone knew everybody and people made sure you studied and didn’t misbehave. They said they knew I was going to successful.
When I got into nursing—I started as an LPN—I intended to go on to medical school. I got exposed to men in nursing and was fortunate enough to have multiple mentors to go to for advice. These are still my mentors. Thanks to Dr. Gene Tranbarger and others, who paved the pathway for me. When I started my studies in the mid-70’s and early 80’s, there were many stereotypes about men in nursing, but you don’t hear them as much anymore.
People know: Men are just as capable of providing care as women. You can be masculine and still care. I’m 6’6” and very large, so a lot of people may think “this guy is going to hurt me” but I’m really a gentle giant. They would soon realize that and ask for me as their nurse.
How has being a racial minority impacted your career as a nurse?
It has impacted my career, especially in the early years. (I grew up during time when segregation was ending.) Once in a while, you may meet someone who doesn’t want you to care for them because of your sex or color or both. Now it doesn’t happen as often. You have to prove yourself to be just as competent of a nurse as your white counterpart.
Have there been other minority nurse presidents in ANA’s history?
Yes, ANA has had two African American presidents, Barbara Nichols (served 1978-1982) and Beverly Malone (served 1996-2000).
I would like to be judged by my capabilities, not by my race or gender. My leadership skills are what got me here. I’ve worked very hard to win the respect of my colleagues. Men ran before for ANA president but faced a lot of obstacles. I’m looking forward to this challenge and endeavor.
What do you want MinorityNurse.com readers to know?
Consider joining ANA and your state nurses association if you’re not already a member. As you begin your career, I want to encourage you to be more politically savvy at the legislative level. You need to be more aware of how decisions in the house or senate may hurt your ability to practice to your full license and educational level. Or it may limit your ability to treat patients—if they can’t get to us to access care [due to political efforts to replace or end the ACA]. If we’re not smart enough to advocate for our patients, then we’re doing a disservice to them.
Get out there and attend town hall meetings that your representatives are having, and volunteer to serve on their committees as a health care expert. Who else out there is more of a health care expert than a nurse? I would challenge all nurses to be more politically astute about how decisions at the state and national level affect the nursing profession.
Diversity is a worldwide issue that touches nearly every topic. In nursing, it includes all of the following: gender, veteran status, race, disability, age, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, education, nationality, and physical characteristics. How? Because every day, medical professionals everywhere (especially nurses) encounter people from every race, religion, ethnicity, cultural background, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Every interaction creates diversity and as such the issues that surround the topic are just as vast and as numerous.
The American Nurses Association (ANA) defines diversity awareness as “acknowledgment and appreciation of differences in attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, and priorities in the health-seeking behaviors of different patient populations.” But diversity is more than just a definition. Diversity in nursing means knowing how to respond if a patient becomes violent towards you for your culture, gender, or religion, or what to do next if a medical professional refuses to give you treatment because you identify as LGBTQ. While the ANA urges nurses to grow professionally and personally in their efforts to understanding diversity issues and translating those learnings to quality care for every patient, diversity efforts often involve complex issues that can’t be solved with a simple “yes, we will do better” response. True diversity efforts require action to succeed, so here are some ways to break down diversity barriers like stereotyping and close-mindedness in order to provide better health care for your patients.
Live, Work, and Breathe Diversity in Everything You Do
The number one most important thing you can do to promote diversity and inclusivity in your organization is to communicate everything as clearly as possible. Think about it. Have you ever had a supervisor who did not communicate their expectations clearly to you? Did you ever have a conversation with a patient that was downright awkward or uncomfortable because of the personal or cultural differences between you? Was there a lot of ambiguity in what they asked from you? How well did you work with that supervisor? People get frustrated, scared, flustered, upset, and discouraged. Situations escalate. The key to avoiding miscommunication in the health care space is to incorporate strong diversity efforts. Here’s why:
When diversity and representation is lacking, it’s hard for people to feel welcome. The balance of diversity in the world of medicine starts with culture and beliefs. The best way for health care providers and hospitals to get in on this? By increasing diversity efforts in hiring. Having nurses on staff that can understand the demographics of their patients, communicate, and relate to their individual struggles will improve the lives of patients and the fulfillment of the nurses hired. Why? Because it opens the door to reaching an understanding of your patient’s morals, values, language, religion, and other demographics (i.e., it makes them more comfortable in their environment).
But communication is a two-way street, therefore listening is just as important. When a diverse workforce of nurses exists, they can more effectively listen to what is bothering their diverse population of patients. This is made possible because not one nurse can relate to every cultural background, speak every language, or identify with every gender identity or sexual orientation. Nurses that actually exist in these spaces can make quality suggestions and treat their patient for the best results. In other words, hiring African American, Asian, Muslim, Christian, LGBTQ, transgender, male and female (and many many more backgrounds, religions, identities) nurses are vital to the overall care of every patient.
This communication is not only between health care providers and seekers. It is also along the health care provider plane. Clear and consistent communication among nurses and doctors will help lead to smooth transitions in providing care for a patient. Staffing a diverse workforce will lead to breaking down the barriers of stereotypes and keeping an inclusive and respectful mind when providing healthcare.
Breaking Down Stereotypes
The first major barrier is breaking down stereotypes. Stereotypes are defined as “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person.” They have become fatal fallacies in our society, and in the medical profession, they can be a major player in increased discomfort between patients and nurses alike. Categorizing someone into a group or as an image of something they don’t identify with puts a strain on their livelihood and overall health. As a consequence, especially from a nursing standpoint, it can hinder a nurse’s ability to give proper medical treatment and impedes a patient’s ability to recover. No nurse or patient should feel negative pressures from their social environment for their background, especially when receiving medical treatment. Therefore, it is crucial that we attempt to break down stereotypes to help improve the acceptance and abundance of diversity in nursing to advance the openness and inclusivity of treatment and recovery for people of all backgrounds.
Shattering stereotypes is difficult. The Wisconsin Network for Research Support (WINRS) and the Community Advisors on Research Design and Strategies (CARDS) aimed at doing so through the power of “The Personal.” For six plus years, the University of Wisconsin has been funding meetings between these groups. The CARDS were people who were giving advice to researchers who want candid feedback on how they can improve their methods from those who are deemed “hard to reach.” The CARDS were made up of those who come from diverse racial, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds. At the end of the research, WINRS found two things that can help break down the stereotype barriers:
- An open-ended question that has been thoughtfully planned out
- Allowing researchers to explain why they personally got into research
The reasoning behind the questions were so they would bring out past experiences in members that provoked positive emotions and reinforced human connection. Establishing an emotional experience makes it easier for people to connect. Justification for the second finding was because CARDS members originally thought they were in it only for the money.
So, what can we learn from this study on stereotypes? The biggest thing we can learn is that disconnect between groups of people is cause for concern. Stereotypes stem from a lack of understanding between groups. At the end of the day, both parties of guest researchers and CARDS members received feedback from those who they didn’t think it was possible. This can be translated into day-to-day care for patients. Finding a common ground between nurse and patient can lead to effective communication and better health care for all. In other words, the key to defeating stereotypes once and for all is with understanding, respect, and compassion.
Creating an inclusive culture in health care is incredibly important in today’s world. Duquesne University explains that inclusive nursing practices begin in the classroom. Madeleine Leininger, a nurse anthropologist, developed the idea of “transcultural nursing,” which is nursing based on a patient’s cultural considerations. Teaching transcultural nursing is a stepping stone to inclusion. Interweaving the idea of providing care based on a patient’s cultural beliefs can help establish an inclusive mindset that is respectful to the patient and will translate over to your coworkers.
Developing an inclusive and respectful mindset starts at building strong relationships and understanding, much like breaking down diversity barriers. While efforts have increased to teach transcultural nursing in the classroom, organizations have been created to help support nurses and patients where they can access resources and communities to help them adjust.
The ANA works tirelessly to be a resource for all nurses of every background so they feel welcomed and comfortable. They offer resources from a number of communities, such as the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. They also offer resources that help you treat patients that are obese, mentally ill, or the elderly. By providing access to all of these communities in one place, the ANA wants to create an industry that is able to treat patients from every walk of life.
Diversity is the key to providing the best health care possible. Understanding how to break down the barriers of stereotyping patients and creating a culture of inclusion within a practice are the two biggest challenges that nurses face today. That is made even more difficult when it comes to being a traveling nurse. Institutes like ANA and WINRS work so hard to educate nurses and medical professionals to knock down the blockades that hinder diversity in nursing.
Earlier this fall, Vanderbilt University School of Nursing named Dr. Rolanda Johnson, PhD, MSN, RN as the new Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion. Johnson, who is also the assistant dean for academics and associate professor of nursing, has replaced Assistant Professor Jana Lauderdale, who returned to her faculty role. Johnson is continuing to shape and foster VUSN’s environment of inclusivity. We spoke with Dr. Johnson to learn more about her experience and her goals for VUSN.
Dr. Rolanda Johnson
What has been your career path so far and how has it led you to your current role as assistant dean of diversity and inclusion?
My desire to work as a health care professional began when I was elementary age. As an 11th grader, I decided to attend nursing school. I completed my Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at Tuskegee University in 1985. Those were very formative years of training and education when I gained a wide range of clinical experiences with diverse populations. After graduating from Tuskegee University, I worked in a community hospital in Montgomery, AL, at Fairview Medical Center where I was exposed to people who I now know had limited access to health care. At Fairview Medical Center, I witnessed a sense of family among employees who were dedicated to providing the highest level of quality care to all that were in need with genuine caring attitude. I later began employment at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery, AL, working in numerous roles including that of nurse educator and clinical nurse specialist. During this time, I obtained a Master of Science in Nursing from Troy State University located in Troy, AL. Working as a nurse educator, I developed a desire to have a greater impact on African American health. Shortly, thereafter I began doctoral studies at Vanderbilt University and later obtained a Doctorate of Philosophy in Nursing Science degree. I have worked in numerous roles of nursing including clinician, educator, researcher and administrator, which led to my current position.
How has your professional background influenced your passion for diversity and inclusion?
Throughout my education trajectory, I have always been keenly aware of the health disparities and inequities some groups of individuals face. I am employed in Nashville while residing and working with my husband in an extremely underserved rural county in Mississippi. The social determinates of health naturally impact the health status of many. Who you are, where you live and what you have, sadly, monumentally impacts the quality of care one receives and access to health. As an educator, I work with students across the spectrum who are often impacted by these factors either individually or through family and friends. For me, all of these experiences have translated to my desire to make a difference in the lives of those that are often overlooked and to help others see the integration of all facets that impact the lives of our students and their performance.
Where did your passion for diversity and inclusion in the nursing field begin?
My passion for diversity and inclusion began during my studies at Tuskegee University. Those were very formative years of training and education. The wide range of clinical experiences with populations across the socioeconomic spectrum and from rural Tuskegee, AL, to metropolitan Atlanta, GA, opened my eyes to the varying degrees of heath care and access for different groups of people. Naturally, at that time I could only assess health disparities from my early developmental lens but these experiences have proven to be instrumental in guiding my nursing career.
For the past 20 years, I have resided in Macon, MS, a low-income, rural community, and have been employed approximately 300 miles away in metropolitan Nashville, TN. This has afforded me the opportunity to observe health care delivery cycles and the degree of effectiveness across diverse populations including associated gaps and health disparities. This phenomenon has fueled my passion to educate advanced practice nurses who will be equipped to fill these gaps and better meet the health care needs of all populations. The key to have advanced practice nurses who can deliver quality culturally sensitive health care.
How do you define diversity and inclusion at Vanderbilt?
Within VUSN, our core belief is that all students, staff and faculty regardless of our differences should feel included and equitable. This is reflected in the VUSN diversity and inclusivity statement, which states at VUSN “we are intentional about and assume accountability for fostering advancement and respect for equity, diversity and inclusion for all students, faculty and staff.” The full statement can be found on the VUSN website.
What are you most excited about with your new position?
The most important part of my new role is the possibility of enhancing the culture climate within VUSN and creating a path for continued improvement for years to come. I am humbled to be a part of this endless journey. I hope to leave an indelible imprint of creating a difference in this area within VUSN.
What strategies do you feel will have the most positive impact on the Vanderbilt Nursing community?
The umbrella strategy is to transform the level of diversity and inclusion within VUSN by minimizing bias across our core areas of academics, faculty practice, research and informatics among faculty, staff and students. Additional strategies will be to improve the cultural climate of VUSN for all students, faculty and staff and to increase the diversity representation among faculty, staff and students.
What are the biggest challenges that you will face in your new role?
The biggest challenge is to keep the diversity and inclusion momentum moving forward within VUSN. Within any organization, change is often difficult and once that change has occurred, it is so easy to be complacent with past accomplishments. The test is to bask in accomplishments for the moment and then move forward to the next challenge and goal.
What diversity goals do you have for yourself and Vanderbilt’s School of Nursing?
My goal is to pursue a high level of excellence in health care by finding creative ways to deliver this level of care to underserved populations. From a diversity and inclusive view, I desire to minimize bias, improve the cultural climate and increase diversity representation in faculty, staff and students within VUSN.
What is a fun fact about you?
I am a college football fanatic.