When I was a young girl dreaming about my future, I was blessed to have inspiring role models all around me. My paternal grandmother, the late Mrs. Mary Alice Smith, was a nurse, and it brought her great joy to hear that I planned to pursue a career in nursing. My maternal grandmother, the late Mrs. Luvenia Henry, had the sweet nature of caring and helping others that I would learn is the heart of the nursing profession.
Another influence was the mother of one of my childhood friends, Mrs. JoAnn Myers-Douglas, who told me I could be a great nurse and what an impact I could have on helping others. Flash forward to 2023, and I am humbled and grateful to be celebrating nearly three decades in nursing, with more than 15 years as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).
This is the power and the opportunity that Black History Month presents to us every year. It reminds us not only to reflect on the contributions of those who helped pave our way, but also to guide those who will come after us. Someone once said: “It’s hard to dream what you don’t know.” We must understand that the choices we make to mentor someone else can illuminate their future path and allow them to dream of one day “becoming just like you or better than you.” This mentorship role is vital as we continue to build upon the Black History of our nation.
In my case, I am grateful for the mentoring I received from colleagues who saw more in me than I saw in myself. I stumbled upon the idea of becoming a CRNA when working as a perioperative nurse in Delaware. I noticed the CRNAs as they went about their work, and they noticed me. Those CRNAs strongly encouraged me to consider a career in nurse anesthesia. And they were not just Black but several different ethnicities. The humanity they shared led me to become an advanced practice nurse.
Black professionals in health care have a rich history that we must continue to share and celebrate. One example is Goldie D. Brangman, who was part of the emergency surgical team at Harlem Hospital that performed successful emergency heart surgery on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. following an assassination attempt in 1958. She physically operated the breathing bag that kept Dr. King alive during surgery. Brangman went on to have an illustrious career, including serving as the first African American president of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists in the 1970s.
By sharing the stories of these trailblazers with those we mentor, I hope we can increase the numbers of Blacks/African Americans in the healthcare profession. This is a critical need. From my own experience working for several years in a hospital in a northern state, I saw that many members of our community wanted to be cared for by someone who looked like them. Many emphasized the need to have more healthcare providers that represented them to ease their level of stress.
For young Black students exploring the idea of a career in health care, I would like to offer this advice. Be sure to focus on areas or specialties that lack our presence as well as those that draw your interest. Black professionals are needed in nearly every specialty. Research the diseases and conditions that most affect the health of our race. The morbidity and mortality rates for Blacks/African Americans are at alarming levels. This can be changed with education and making better choices to promote healthy living and an increased lifespan.
And finally, be humble as you make a difference for all races. We are more than color. We are adaptable, tenacious, confident, reliable, flexible and self-aware. Be guided by the words from Philippians 4:11-13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Dream it, receive it, and achieve it!
Sabrina Nelson-Winters, DNP, CRNA, APRN, is based in Tampa and has practiced in the field of nurse anesthesiology for more than 15 years. She holds a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree as well as Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in nursing. She is a member of the 2022-23 Board of Directors of the Florida Association of Nurse Anesthesiology.