Jessica McNeil, CNM, MSN, RNC-OB, C-EFM
As a young girl, I was fortunate enough to see images of black health care providers in my family, as well as hear stories of influential black pioneers in health care from my grandmother. It was these experiences that inspired me to go into health care. While I saw these images in my family, I struggled to see nurses that looked like me during my health care encounters as a patient. I believe it is fundamental that there are black nurses in the nursing field because there are black patients in our health care system. Many of these patients have experienced systematic racism at some point in their time as a patient, and this has led to fear and mistrust of health care providers. Knowing that there are health care providers that “look like you” and/or can share and understand your cultural experiences can help build trust among patients. It helps to mend a culture of mistrust that has increasingly grown over time due to a history of grave mistreatment of patients of color, which is highlighted in the story of Henrietta Lacks, as well as our current black maternal health crisis.
Not only does having black nurses in the nursing field assist in building trust with patients, but it is also an important aspect of building understanding and gaining cultural humility among health care providers and nurses of other races. Building relationships with people of other cultures has the ability to breakdown both implicit and explicit biases that some may have. Black nurses are working daily to combat those biases throughout our health care systems. Most importantly, black nurses are essential to the nursing field because they have knowledge, skill, voices, and gifts that have and are continuing to transform and improve the health of communities, individuals, and systems.
I have had the honor of serving on different AWHONN committees with other black nurses that inspire me each day, and I am proud and thankful for the experiences nursing has afforded me. I hope that as we continue to highlight the work of black nurses in health care, more children of color will become inspired to become nurses.