Black History Month: Celebrating Black Healthcare Workers with a focus on Black Men in Nursing

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by Brenda F. Johnson Brenda F. Johnson, MSN

Specializes in Gastrointestinal Nursing. Has 30 years experience.

There are many people who deserve the spotlight during Black History month. Many times we look into the past for them, but let’s look at the here and now. There are numerous trend setters and nurse heroes that are making history right now.

Spotlight On Black Men In Nursing

Black History Month: Celebrating Black Healthcare  Workers with a focus on Black Men in Nursing

Mary Seacole, Harriet Tubman, Adah Belle Thomas; these are only three of the many  Black nurses that spent their lives in service. They paved the way, changing lives and their community for the better. Most of us have heard of one or more of these amazing nurses, but what about those who are continuing their work? There are many Black nurses out there who are presently making their own history.

The nursing field is mostly women, approximately 80% women. The ratio has improved over the years from 90%.  We will focus on some male nurses after we take a glimpse at a few women first. 

Her career began as a nurse and then branching out into politics, she has used her knowledge and experience to better her community, her name is Eddie Bernice Johnson. She was the first woman elected to the Senate (1972), representing Dallas, the first woman to chair a major state House committee for Texas, and the first woman, and first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress (1986) from Texas. She continues to serve the state of Texas, even well into her 80s.

Beverly Malone is another nurse who went on to build on her nursing degree and knowledge to specialize in clinical psychology with a doctorate degree. She has had a wide variety of jobs in her 73 years, from surgical nurse, Director of Nursing, to the highest political position held by a nurse; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She also has served in the Royal College of Nursing, a professional nurses union in the United Kingdom as the general secretary. She was part of many other federations as well as presently the CEO of the National League of Nursing.

These women along with many others have a mind-boggling list of awards and accomplishments in the nursing and political world. They have used their abilities and resources to improve their  community professionally at the grassroots level. However, rare are the Black male nurses on our list. Therefore, we will look at Ernest Grant and also a friend of mine, Melvin. Both a minority in the nursing field, both to be celebrated this month of Black History.

Black Men In Nursing

Ernest Grant

Reading Ernest Grant’s list of accomplishments is a lesson in what one person can do to help their fellow man. His list of degrees, awards, and positions are very impressive,  but even more impressive, is his work using his experience as a nurse to help those tragically burned; specifically those from the World Trade Center. 

Each of us have talents and passions, but not all of us use them to the extent possible.  But there are some people that are blessed to be able to make a difference on a larger scale, and we should be proud and celebrate them. Grant is one of those. Earlier in his 30 year career as a nurse, he worked as a burn educator to all levels of healthcare professionals. He ran the burn prevention program for the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at University of North Carolina Hospitals in Chapel Hill. He was able to make a difference through his job in the legislative process and public education. 

Grant is an adjunct educator for nurses, a popular public speaker, and an active member of professional organizations including his position as the present ANA president. He is the first male to hold that position. And as mentioned earlier, he has done some very noble work educating  burn victims and caregivers of burn victims.

Several branches of the military have utilized his expertise with burn victims to educate soldiers. These soldiers were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and through Grant, they knew how to treat burns in the battlefield. As mentioned earlier, he worked with burn victims from the World Trade Center tragedy. In fact, he was awarded Nurse of the Year in 2002 by President Bush. His work was also recognized by the North Carolina Fire and Life Safety Education Council. They gave him the B.T. Fowler Lifetime Achievement Award for his help in prevention of fire and burn deaths and injuries. Grant has many more accolades to brag about, but his focus throughout his career is to educate and enhance  his community.

Melvin (coworker)

I want to introduce you to a nurse that I have worked with, his name is Melvin. I asked him a few questions about his experience as a Black male in the nursing field and he was nice enough to give me some perspective. 

Melvin found himself providing nursing care to his great grandmother at the age of 16 after she suffered a stroke. His life changed forever at that moment, at a time in his life when he was enjoying his friends and going to high school. He helped his grandmother take care of his great-grandmother who was now bedridden. Melvin had the physical strength to move her, but lacked the skill to help with tube feedings and the other issues that come with full-time care. Although he was helping, he felt incompetent. His experience with his great-grandmother led him to seek out the knowledge and skills so he wouldn’t feel that way again.

As soon as Melvin graduated, he joined the Navy and served as a hospital corpsman in 1990 (Thank you for your service!). He became an EMT a year later, and then got his LPN in 2007, then RN in 2014. His goal is to obtain his BSN, and possibly MSN. 

When asked if he had encountered obstacles due to gender or skin color, Melvin said mostly he had experienced issues related to race more than gender. As he said, it’s difficult to prove subtle racism, “I don’t waste a lot of time worrying about is this racist or not, but concentrate on is this situation or issue right or wrong because that is something I can prove easier”. He went on to say that his being male has not been a hindrance, he has been accepted by his female counterparts and patients.

Melvin has worked in the ER, medical-surgical, Psych, CDU, and surgery. He presently works in surgery which he finds to be a good fit at this point in his life. I can say that Melvin has helped me in the GI lab and he has always been a stand-out for professionalism. He is great with patients, friendly, and hard-working. I tried a few times to recruit him, but he preferred surgery. So on that note, thank you for answering my questions Melvin, you are a great addition to the nursing field!!

Nursing is a career that combines passion, skill, and perseverance. It is not an easy way to go, but can be very fulfilling. Thanks to those who bring their diversity to the nursing field. 

References

Ernest Grant PhD, RN, FAAN ANA President

Ernest Grant, Ph.D. - U.S. NEWS

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