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VSU Discovers the Past, Present and Future of Black Nurses

Black History Month is a time of reflection and celebration of African American culture and achievement. It is not only a time to look back on great leaders of the past, but a time to look forward to trailblazers of the future.

VSU is celebrating Black History month with four faculty lectures organized by Dr. Leslie Jones, associate professor of biology.

The first was given on Feb. 5th by nursing professor Kwanza Thomas titled: “Black Nightingales: Past, Present and Future” about the importance of black nurses in healthcare.

In her lecture, Thomas explored the history and impact black nurses have had in the field and the prejudice they continue to overcome.

Black women like Mary Eliza Mahoney, Hazel Johnson- Brown and Lillian Holland Harvey have broken racial and gender barriers in the world of nursing. Their legacies tell a story of determination and triumph for African Americans in the field, but there’s still much to be desired for diversity in nursing.

Despite the black population continuing to rise in the nation, only 10 percent of the nation’s 3.9 million registered nurses are black. The ubiquity of racism and prejudice as well as a lack of representation are the main contributors to the disparity in numbers.

Thomas, herself once a nurse, has first-hand experience.

Thomas decided to become a nurse at 5-years-old after she survived an accident that required her to learn how to walk again. The compassion her favorite nurse showed her by reading her favorite book to her every night would inspire her to want to show the same compassion to others.

“That experience ignited my passion to comfort and care for others the same way I was comforted,” Thomas said.

However, Thomas was then unaware of the obstacles black nurses have and continue to overcome.

Thomas described the experience of being a black nurse as “isolating” and that being a minority in the field is a fact that black nurses never escape. The lack of diversity in nursing not only affects current black nurses in the field but also aspiring nursing students and instructors like Thomas.

Not seeing themselves represented in their field discourages both nursing students and nursing instructors who attend predominately white institutions like VSU. Many of them transfer to HBCUs where they feel more like they belong.

“The underrepresentation of black nurses in the community and the classroom is a threat to the future of nursing and our healthcare system,” Thomas said.

A lack of black male nurses in the field was also a topic of discussion. While black females are underrepresented in the field, black men are even more of a minority.

Thomas also recalls enduring racism in the field by the hands of patients who refused her service because of the color of her skin, describing it as “hurtful”.

After Thomas’ lecture, students and faculty in attendance were allowed the opportunity to pose questions and solutions to solving the issues of racism and the lack of diversity not only in the field of nursing but the very campus of VSU.

The future of nursing depends on black Nightingales of the future to break down the barriers that seek to hold back some of the world’s most compassionate people.

The next faculty lecture will be given by Dr. John Elder and Dr. Leslie Jones in the Hugh C. Bailey science center on Feb. 19th.

Written by Arelexus Brown, Staff Writer. Photo Courtesy of Pexels.

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