The Audacity of me to want to be a Nurse. The nerve of me to want to care for and help the sick. What is it about the color of my skin that makes you so uncomfortable? Why is it that you being so uncomfortable with me, makes me feel uncomfortable? Why should your discomfort make me feel less than? As I recall, I had to earn my degree, sit through nursing board exams and orientations just like all the others. Why am I made to feel inferior to you? Why do I allow you to make me feel inferior? Why am I overlooked and dismissed as not having value or input in regards to the care of my patient? What happened to care team? Do care team members only apply to those who look like you? Why are you still running around the nursing unit looking for Nicole the RN when she is standing right in front of you? Why when I tell you that I am the very Nicole RN you were looking for, you seem embarrassed or confused? I am wearing hospital mandated blue scrubs with the title of RN embroidered on it. I'm pretty sure I wore my badge that clearly states Nicole Pitter RN on it. What seems to be the problem here? Is it your problem or is it my problem?
This is something I experience on pretty much a daily basis by all of the disciplines in the hospital. It's so perplexing to me that this occurs daily given the institution I work for. We are located smack dab in the middle of a very diverse city and have a diverse patient population. My question is why are you still so damn confused when you see that I will be the nurse caring for our patient today? I am the very nurse who takes your orders and saves your ASS!
I can recall one instance that really hurt and still has me feeling salty to this day. I entered my patient's room with the PCT (CNA), who happened to be white wearing her light blue hospital mandated scrubs, and myself in royal blue scrubs,I make reference to the scrub color because the institution I work for decided to pick a color for each role/department to better serve our patients and staff with identifying who was who. When two off service doctors came in behind us. As they talked amongst each other and over the patient, I continued to place an IV and administer IV medications. The physicians began to talk to the tech and rattle off orders and ask her questions that only the nurse would know in regards to the patient, she looked at me and the doctors with confusion.
Well duh! Of course, she was confused because she had no idea what the hell they were talking about. Their assumption that the white person in the room must be the nurse has made them look foolish!! The tech politely told the physicians that she is not the nurse and that I was. You know the other person standing in the room next to the patient placing an IV and administering medication, don’t look too fast you might miss me. The doctor stops abruptly with his arrogant attitude and looks at me, he is visibly embarrassed. He then backs up and say's, “Are you the nurse for this patient?”
I look at him and say, “Yes, I am the nurse caring for this patient. What exactly can I help you with?”
The silence felt like forever, he rattled off his orders and ran out of the room. The silence was awkward for everyone, the patient, tech and for myself. A few moments after my patient told me that he was so sorry for the way the doctor treated me. I just looked at him and smiled.
My intention was not to make the doctor embarrass himself. I made up all kinds of excuses and reasons why he just assumed she was the nurse. Maybe he forgot his glasses or maybe because he is off service he didn't know black nurses exists on other units. Maybe he was exhausted or maybe he was just damn rude, prejudiced and biased! In all seriousness, my heart was heavy, I was hurt, screw that I was hella mad! For the entire day, my patient felt the need to tell me how embarrassed he was for the behavior of his doctor.
Just so we are clear, It was never my intention to embarrass the doctor. Sure, I could have interrupted him, raised my hand jumped up and down and yelled pick me, Hey, over here, I'm the nurse!” But after so many years days in and days out of discrimination, being overlooked and dismissed by the very doctors I truly admire and respect it was time for me let him see what he just did. I needed him to correct his own behavior. I might have been wrong in my actions, I could have talked to him outside. Maybe he didn't have a bias, or maybe he did it and didn't even know it. I will never know exactly his thoughts on this situation or if he even had one thought of it after he left.
After stewing and sulking about how I felt I decided that should something like this happen in the future I will turn that anger and frustration into a learning opportunity for the offender. I will choose to communicate and raise awareness to people's actions in hopes of understanding one another. I know in today's world we are a culture of people who are easily offended but come on we have to do better. I mean damn all he had to do was ask who's the nurse for this patient. I don't think that's too much to ask.
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