February is Black History Month, and to celebrate, Fast Layne Solutions would like to pay tribute to some of the key African-American pioneers in the field of medicine.
Dr. James McCune Smith (1813 – 1865) was the very first African American to hold a medical degree. He was the valedictorian of his graduating class in medical school at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. After completing his degree and then an internship in Paris, he returned to the US, where he had a long and successful career that included being the first Black man to run a pharmacy in the United States; publishing articles in respected medical journals; and conducting extensive research, especially in the area of refuting racist theories about the connections between race and intelligence. He accomplished all this despite the many obstacles 19th-century America put in his path: he was refused admission to medical schools in the US due to his race, and was never accepted by the American Medical Association or even local medical groups. He was even once refused passage on a ship to return to America due to his race. Smith was an ardent abolitionist, and died just before the ratification of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
Dr. Helen Octavia Dickens (1909 – 2001) was the first African-American woman to be admitted to the American College of Surgeons. She completed her medical degree at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in 1934. In 1942, she passed the boards to become the first Black woman to become a board-certified Ob/gyn in Philadelphia. She served as Director of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Mercy Douglass Hospital in Philadelphia for almost 20 years, and did extensive research into the areas of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, using the results to educate young women. As a doctor who faced the double challenge of overcoming both racism and sexism in her personal and professional lives, she was a true pioneer in both medicine and the fight for equality.
Dr. Robert Fulton Boyd (1855 – 1912) was the first president of the National Medical Association, an organization he and others founded in response to the racial segregation of medical facilities and schools and of other medical associations. Born into slavery, he went on to become a superlatively qualified healer, earning a degree not only in medicine but dentistry, on top of a Master of Arts degree. In 1893, he was appointed professor of gynecology and clinical medicine at Meharry College in Nashville.
Mary Mahoney (1845 – 1926) was the first African American woman to be awarded a nursing degree in 1879. She was also among the first Black women to be admitted to the American Nurses Association (ANA). She was a co-founder of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN), which made significant contributions in the area of ending racial discrimination policies in their field. (The NACGN later merged with the ANA.) She was a civil rights pioneer in other ways, too: she was among the first Black women to register to vote in Boston after Suffrage. She was honored with induction into both the ANA’s and the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Despite the great strides made by these and other brave African American pioneers in the field of medicine, to this day, Black medical professionals face challenges unknown to their white counterparts. Sociologist Adia Harvey Wingfield of Washington University has studied this subject extensively and her work shows we still have a long way to go. That’s doubly true for African American women working in medicine. Wingfield reported cases of Black female doctors regularly being called “miss” by people who assumed they must be nurses or orderlies. And the “new economy,” with its emphasis on contract work, has presented even more challenges, as Black medical professionals are disproportionately pushed into such arrangements, limiting both job security and upward mobility.
Every February, Black History Month provides us with myriad inspirational stories telling us how far we have come as a society, along with new milestones showing that we continue to make incremental improvements. But it also a sobering reminder that we still have miles to travel before we arrive at that “not too distant tomorrow [when] the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” But we will get there. Dr. Martin Luther King never doubted that vision of his, and he never abandoned hope. Nor should we.
Today’s guest blogger is a Registered Nurse and hospice administrator who shares with us her personal experiences and observations of a life in healthcare from her front-line perspective. We welcome guest bloggers who can share insights regarding the many facets and aspects of healthcare: tech, administration, policy, and patient outcomes, among others. Interested in contributing? Please send your credentials and a brief content pitch to us at email@example.com, using GUEST BLOGGER in the subject line.
What Do Nurses Eat?
What do nurses eat? Well, the old adage is that “nurses eat their young.” Not literally of course; I’m not talking about a nurse cannibalizing their biological children. I’m talking about the abuse a new nurse sometimes faces when he or she enters the workplace. It’s a surprising hurdle that a lot of nurses must deal with: bullying, hazing, and conflict in the workplace. The types of bullying can manifest in different types of forms, such as unwillingness to help a coworker, verbal abuse, mocking, gossip, exclusion, and, in extreme cases, even physical abuse.
I find it so unusual that even though nursing is a profession that is committed to helping, caring, healing, and loving others, it's also very consistent with such bullying tactics like hazing. Nursing is regarded as one of the most trusted professions; however, in this career we are subjected to high pressure, stress, and extreme emotions, which could lead to a boiling point that may precipitate aggression towards each other.
Does that still stand as true today as when I started out? Unfortunately, I believe it does, and I see it happen often in my own career. It often happens when new nurses are insecure and unable to defend themselves. Suddenly, they find themselves in this new, big, scary world and in a new role straight out of nursing school.
Believe me, we all know that nursing school is no joke, and some nursing school instructors can be vicious. I wonder if such experiences make new nurses accustomed to this treatment as a result of nursing school and clinicals. Is it possible that being bullied, humiliated, and harassed is familiar and it just carries on into the workplace with them? Is this a rite of passage, akin to hazing in sororities and fraternities?
The bigger questions are why it is necessary and when does this end? Does it end when a person has been a nurse a certain number of years? Does it start over and over when a person goes into a new job, regardless of how many years s/he has actually been a nurse?
I witnessed one of the first instances of bullying of nurses while attending nursing school. There was in our class one student who was particularly bright, beautiful, and organized (let’s just say she was perfect). Honestly, she rather intimidated the rest of us and would consistently stand to speak anytime she had a question or to answer a question. She was the kind of girl that we all detest: her always perfect notes were pristine, she always made A’s. When it was her turn to speak, she would stand, poised as Princess Diana, and in the most articulate voice you can imagine, would answer or ask a question.
One day after a very grueling test, we were all literally in tears because we were sure that we had failed it. Suddenly, this young lady stood up to ask a question. That’s when it happened: another student blurted out to her, “would you please just sit your ass down?!”
The entire room burst into laughter. Even the instructor laughed out loud and openly. Very slowly she sat down. I saw tears run down her face. That was the very first instance that I can recall that I witnessed nurse bullying and this poor girl wasn’t even officially a nurse yet. It was so blatant that I was actually shocked. The instructor did nothing, giving absolutely no reprimand to the student who blurted out. Through the instructor’s silence, the bullying student’s behavior was condoned and somewhat rewarded. For the remainder of the term, the bullying student was regarded as the leader of the class.
I often wonder about that young lady today. I wonder what her nursing career has been like since we graduated. I wonder: does she still display her intelligence boldly? Does she still stand while being extremely poised in all her interactions with people, or did she shrink and become quiet and reserved? I think and wonder about her frequently, and I feel very sad that on that day when everybody burst into laughter, I joined in the chorus. I succumbed to the peer pressure to laugh and ridicule a fellow future nurse who was just trying to make her way, just as I was.
For years, this culture of bullying has been widely tolerated among nurses; however, there has been increased public attention brought to this problem. As a nurse leader, I am very watchful of bullying behavior by senior nurses towards new staff, making it clear to them that it is not accepted as part of the culture of our workplace. I think about the new employees and especially the nurses that come under my leadership and strive to cultivate a new adage: “nurses protect and treasure their young.”
My name is Freda Beaty. I’m originally from Winston-Salem, NC, but currently live in Greenville, SC. I am a Registered Nurse and I am the Administrator for a hospice company. During my free time, I am a jewelry designer and self-proclaimed photographer. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.