I was born in a poor rural community in Mississippi filled with hate and systemic oppression. But I was always told, “Never let your circumstances determine your destiny.”
As a Black teenager, hearing those words over and over taught me that I was destined to be great and to rise above the circumstances I faced.
My mother was a single mom, so my grandmother raised me most of the time while my mother pursued a business degree and then later when she went to work. My mother wore suits and worked with the public. I wanted to be just like her.
I started my career in the non-profit sector, then education, and back to non-profits, but I was never fulfilled until I got the calling to become a nurse. One day the CEO of a local hospice organization asked me to join the company as the chief administrative officer.
That’s when I witnessed what it meant to be a nurse — the compassion, comfort, and care. I believed they were doing what God called them to do.
Forging my way like my ancestors
Despite systemic inequality, my ancestors forged the way for me to enroll in nursing school. People who typically go unrecognized in nursing history — Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, James Derham, and Mary Eliza Mahoney — were prominent advocates for equality in nursing and in the suffrage movement. Mahoney, for instance, is documented as the first Black nurse to have earned a nursing degree. I kept my ancestors in mind as I researched schools and submitted my nursing school applications.
My first challenge was an interview with a dean who described my community in terms of its racial breakdown and said that at least I was “a step above the statistics” because I had a bachelor’s degree. The dean also asked me if I would feel better at a Black school.
Despite the dean’s efforts to distract or discourage me, I remained determined, patient, and passionate that I was going to be a nurse, and I wasn’t going to let these circumstances get in the way. I continued to pursue the dean and keep my eyes on the prize. After three interviews, the dean finally accepted my application for admission. “But it is your job to complete the curriculum successfully,” she said.
I went through two years of tears and many tiring nights of studying. “What have I gotten myself into?” I often asked myself. But I never gave up, even though the program was rigorous, time consuming, and stressful. After I graduated from nursing school with my associate degree, I felt that I could change the world one patient at a time.
Braving the rough times
Early on, I was taught, “Nurses eat their young.” I had no idea what that meant until I began my first job working on a med-surg floor with my new co-workers and my preceptor. Nurses would scold each other, undermine their peers, or tattle to get them in trouble.
I kept my nose to the grindstone and remembered my late husband’s words: “You’re there to do a job to the best of your ability. You can’t be involved in petty, insignificant stuff. That’s not your purpose.”
I learned to ask questions or to say, “I don’t understand how this works. Please show me.” Admitting your limitations keeps you humble and out of trouble. Nursing school only gives you the basics of a glorified nursing career, but preceptorship is where you learn your skills and what nursing is really like.
I learned that some nursing environments are tougher than others and nursing has a broad range of opportunities. I seized those opportunities by gaining experience in hospital nursing, long-term care, home health, hospice, corrections, case management, and administration. And I often worked in more than one setting at the same time. Unfortunately, this resulted in burnout, so I decided to return to nursing school to complete RN-to-BSN and BSN-to-MSN programs.
Research shows disparities exist in nursing, and I’ve been a victim of and personally witnessed many disparities. But despite the disparities I see as a Black woman — disproportionately lower wages, exclusion from certain job positions, and other disadvantages — I have always been determined to succeed and move forward.
Today, I’m a DNP student and work as a travel nurse and volunteer. I believe an advanced degree will lead to my desired leadership role and that my education will set me apart.
My aim in life is to never let my circumstances determine my destiny.
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