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.