I’ve gotten mistaken multiple times for an aide or a cleaner; unfortunately, that’s a given. I’ve also had people make a lot of remarks rooted in implicit bias, where they’ll say things like, “That’s so nice that they let you be a nurse!” or “Wow, you’re so lucky to be here!” And I think to myself, What are you trying to say? That I’m not deserving of this position?
I’m still working on my responses to comments like that. Especially when you’re new, it’s very hard to find your voice and know how to articulate yourself in a way that you’re heard and respected, but not considered to be aggressive. That’s the challenge with our profession: You’re not there to be anybody’s friend, you are there to do a job and do it successfully. So when you’re in a position where someone is belittling you or not giving you the respect you deserve, you need to be able to articulate that in a way that’s professional, and that’s not always easy.
Despite all that, do I think that being a Black woman in the nursing field is advantageous? One hundred percent. I had a patient come up to me recently to say, “I can’t tell you enough how happy I am to see that you’re the nurse caring for us.” And I wasn’t even his nurse. That was really powerful, how just being who I am allows other people to feel more open and more secure.
I had another Black patient who was an older gentleman, and he and I got along really well from the start. It was about my second or third day taking care of him, and he mentioned to me that he wanted to be removed from his room. I thought that was strange, but he eventually whispered to me that his neighbor had said something really inappropriate to him, borderline racist. As soon as I heard that, I didn’t need to hear anything more. I went to the head nurse and said: “My patient does not feel safe in this room. The neighbor is saying some insensitive things and I want him out.”
We ended up moving him, and when I say he was so happy, you have no idea. He called his wife, he was just so ecstatic that I was able to get him out of that room. And honestly, I don't know if that same outcome would have happened if it had been one of my white colleagues caring for him instead of me. Not because a white nurse wouldn't have done the same thing, but because I don't know if the patient would have felt comfortable enough to say something.
That’s why having more of us in this profession is so important — a lot of times it’s not the fault of our white colleagues, but they don’t understand how to communicate and relate to people of color. So I think it’s really important that we as Black people continue working to close that gap.
Janelle Amoako, 27, is a nurse from Providence. For more in this series go to bostonglobe.com/opinion/black-voices-now.