Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Why It Matters to Me

By Shawntay Harris, MBA, MSN, MHA, RN, NEA-BC, NE-BC, TCRN, CPEN, CEN, CFRN, CTRN Jan 26, 2023

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My pathway to nursing started in 1996 when I matriculated in a pre-nursing program at Alabama A&M University

My pathway to nursing started in 1996 when I matriculated in a pre-nursing program at Alabama A&M University, later transferring to the University of Alabama-Huntsville. I entered the program as a former noncommissioned officer of the United States Army who had led soldiers.

I Felt Alone

Upon starting the program, I was taken aback by the lack of diversity among the nursing professors and the profession. I found it difficult to relate to the professors. While that may seem cliché, my branch in the military was Signal, and my job was communications. Even with that background, I never once spoke with any nursing school professors outside of class. My class consisted of 1% Black students. When I did not clearly understand the assignments or content, I suffered in silence and studied harder. I found it rather disturbing how disease processes in minorities were presented in textbooks, yet there was minimal discussion on how other races were affected by the same illnesses.

During clinical rotations, my patients were predominantly white. I experienced acculturation when I took my first job at an inner-city hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, because my patient population changed to predominantly Black. I now had educators and leaders who looked like me. I felt immediate relief as I realized the nursing profession was diversified.

I had the best preceptor in the emergency department that a new nurse could ever want or need, which provided the inclusion I was seeking. That preceptor has played a role in my success throughout my nursing career. My preceptor saw something that I did not see in myself. She told me, "You are different." I am happy to say that she is now a mentor and a friend. My family and mentor helped me get to where I am today.

Innovating My Career: My Path to Nurse Entrepreneurship

I started traveling early in my nursing career. As a travel nurse, I began to change my nursing career path and again found a shift in the diversity of my colleagues. Wherever I worked, I grew accustomed to being either the only or one of a few Black nurses. However, I always knew my Southern hospitality and clinical excellence would prevail and help create a more inclusive work experience. I have now been a successful nurse entrepreneur for 16 years.

I initially pursued legal nurse consulting as a business. After several wins, I knew the best was yet to come. I am now a highly sought-after expert nurse witness and legal nurse consultant who frequently works with large law firms.

In 2006, I completed a Master of Business Administration (MBA). The capstone project involved creating a business. I chose an American Heart Association training site, because the plan met all course objectives and was a win according to the capstone criterion. I continue to run that training site today.

The emergency department has always been near and dear to my heart. I joined the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) in 2013. I am a national board member of the ENA Foundation and currently serve on the board of directors for the state of Texas. I am a member of the National Course Administration Faculty Committee for the Emergency Nursing Pediatric Course and the Trauma Nursing Core Course. I have also spoken at local, state and national conferences.

Discrimination Found Me

The reality for Black nurses today is that we must continue to prove our worth far beyond what is required of others. While my hospital was striving for clinical excellence, I was told by a vice president of a large healthcare organization that my certifications did not matter. I was passed over for a promotion by a nurse with an associate degree and no certifications when I had three master's degrees and three certifications. Another time, I was accused of "bullying" during an interview simply because I asked the interviewee to "give me another example." It seemed that because of my skin color, I was judged and dismissed.

Racism in Nursing Is Pervasive.

As a nurse leader, I worked through numerous tight financial times in healthcare. Facing each one, I spoke with my staff and prepared them for the trials, tribulations and cutbacks that I knew would affect our healthcare systems. I told my staff exactly who I thought would be terminated or separated from the facilities and why. I went down the leadership chain and told them who would stay and why, often predicting when the staff of color would be terminated before less qualified white colleagues. This is how it is to be a Black nurse leader. My MBA and leadership experience gave me the knowledge and courage to converse openly with nurses, navigating their challenges and offering the support they needed.

How Do We Make It Better? Networking and Mentorship

Networking has been helpful to me and can help others. Nursing professional associations are a great way to connect with other nurses and stay abreast of what is happening in healthcare. Within the realm of nursing professional organizations, there are opportunities to guide nursing practice and create the change that nursing desperately needs.

Through nursing professional organizations and associations, there are also opportunities to find mentors or mentor other nurses. Since the beginning of my career, mentors have been key to my success. I now offer mentorship to others to provide guidance and elevate their experiences. I am helping to shape the future of nursing. I have a voice through my nursing professional organization that I feel would have limits elsewhere.

Scholarship and service guide my work in professional organizations. The following resources may be useful:

Despite Adversity, I Can Have and Do It All.

I have learned that I am as capable as my peers. I can have and do it all. There is no limit to what the future holds for me in the nursing profession. My advice for other Black nurses and nurses of color is to continue to be your best self, find mentors and use your resources, such as nursing professional associations, to advance yourself and your colleagues in the nursing profession.

What resources or strategies have been helpful when you experienced discrimination as a nurse?

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions or opinions of any organization the author belongs to.