Social Justice in Nursing

At the Core of Care

Published: June 11, 2020

SARAH HEXEM HUBBARD: This is At the Core of Care. A podcast where people share their stories about nurses and their creative efforts to better meet the health AND healthcare needs of patients, families and communities.

I’m Sarah Hexem Hubbard, executive director of the Pennsylvania Action Coalition and the National Nurse-Led Care Consortium.

It’s an unprecedented time to be entering the field of nursing, as our country grapples with George Floyd’s murder, widespread protests, and of course the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve been reaching out to recent nursing school graduates to take stock of the situation, and we’re gonna spend this episode with Andre’ Bennett. Andre graduated from Lincoln University, a Historically Black College and University in Southeastern Pennsylvania. He’s going to share with us his outlook on what’s happening in our country, the need for social justice and how that all relates to his interest in mental health nursing.

ANDRE’ BENNETT: Racism and mental health is connected, right? So if you're a vulnerable population experiencing that racism constantly, that is going to wear on you mentally. And it's going to pass now through generations because what you are going through, you now have to explain to your children, you know, how they present themselves. And I mean, as a African American male living now, hey, it's a tossup, whether you return home or not.

SARAH: Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Andre’ took a leave of absence from his job so he could start studying for his boards to become a registered nurse. But now, Andre’ is not even sure when he’ll sit for the exam.

ANDRE: Well, right now, with the pandemic, a lot of things are backed up. A lot of people were supposed to take their NCLEX exams. It’s very difficult to even get a date right now because of all the backup. It’s really disheartening in a way. But it is what it is. And that’s one thing. As a nurse, you have to figure it out. It’s all about critical thinking.

SARAH: Andre’ says he had never considered becoming a nurse until his wife began to nudge him. His wife happens to be Daisy Lara, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses.

ANDRE’: In my mind, I never imagined being a nurse. I was always a CNA or that role of nurse's aide. And I did that for several years. And she would tell me periodically. Why don't you become a nurse? And I would tell her back, I don't think I can do that. And here I am. So, yes, she was one of the people that really inspired me. And if I can be half the nurse she is, I know I'll be well off.

SARAH: In recent years, Andre’ has worked as an overnight supervisor at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Chester County. After he takes his boards, Andre’ hopes to continue working with vets. We’ll hear now from Andre about why that is.

ANDRE’: What I wanted to do was go into the mental health side of nursing. I think that's very much needed, even more so than before. And the reason why I chose to go that route is because my father was a Vietnam vet and he suffered from PTSD. He had some other issues that were going on. And I just feel as though this is my way of honoring my father and also my way of being able to give back to veterans who sacrificed so much for us.  I'm actually 51 years old, so I'm an older Nursing student. When I first told my father that I was going to nursing, he was ailing. And the one thing that he said to me was, oh, well, at least you have a guinea pig. [LAUGHS]

It’s just so much going on right now. I think we need nurses more than ever. Right. Because what is a nurse? One of the nurse's main things and main objectives is to be an advocate for our patients. We are the buffer between our patients and sickness. And I think if we use that same drive that we have for our patients, we can make meaningful change not only with COVID, but with the way the whole country is dealing with this whole racism piece. And there are so many different ways you can go with nursing. I think any position that you have, you could actually input a nurse there to exhibit their training. So there's nurses that deal with law. There's nurses that deal with mental health. There's medical nurses, all types of different fields use nurses. A lot of research uses nurses, you know, so there's so many different avenues and ways you can go as a nurse. And there's so many pieces where you can fit nurses in to help, you know, at least at some some good, valuable input to that situation. So you know, I want to go back and get my masters so that I can become a nurse practitioner, a mental health nurse practitioner, that's one of my goals in the near future. So I want to be on the floor maybe a year and a half, two years to get some experience there and then apply to a school so I can get my masters.

And one of the things at the V.A. that I was able to do was actually counsel people in the V.A. because you had these guys with PTSD and they can't sleep and they're up all night. And a lot of them were in pain. A lot of times they just want to sit and talk and to be that ear for them and to be able to try to incorporate some type of solution for them or suggestion. A lot those guys would come to me and say, Andre, I know you're a nursing school. I'm having this issue. What do you think it is? And I'm like, it could be this or this or this. But I say, how about we sit down, look it up together? Because what that did for me was it gave me the opportunity to further study what their symptoms were. And they gave them an opportunity to learn what it possibly could be. So I feel like that was beneficial for for both of us.

When I took my mental health courses, I actually took my clinicals at the Veterans Administration Hospital and I really liked that rotation. So when I went there and they, you know, showed the different ways you're supposed to interview and how to present yourself and how to allow people to, you know, communicate with you. That was big for me, you know, because for me, that didn't feel like work because I actually had an opportunity to go in and talk to people and see what really made them tick, you know, and. It was just enlightening for me. And it's one of those things where you have an aha moment, right? And it's like, OK, I think this is what I want to do because realistically, as a nursing student your whole way through, you know, they're giving you these different clinicals, these different classes and you're going to resonate to one, maybe two. And that's how you really figure out like, oh, I think that's what I want to do. You know, some people want Peds. Some people want, you know, mental health. Some people want to work med surge, you know. But you will find something that you want to do. And for me, that was my aha moment when I had that clinical. And I was able to sit down and have a conversation and take notes and let somebody just really vent. All right. And get it off their chest. And for them to say, Andre, thank you for listening. I didn't have the answers. I didn't know everything to do. But they were just appreciative that I listened. And I mean, for me, that that is an awesome position to have.

Racism and mental health is connected, right? So if you're a vulnerable population experiencing that racism constantly, that is going to wear on you mentally. And it's going to pass now through generations because what you are going through, you now have to explain to your children, you know, how they present themselves. And I mean, as a African American male living now, hey, it's a tossup, whether you return home or not. It's really important to be able to speak. What happened to Mr. Floyd was so disheartening. Right. Even though you know it happens right. You know it happens. Some of them have been filmed. Some of them have not. But this particular one for me, the way it was different is A.) it happened in broad daylight. B.) He was pressed on the concrete with a knee in his neck. C.)There was another video that arose where the three other officers were also kneeling on him. You know, so it is just it's really disheartening to see an individual murdered. Because normally. Many times you hear about it. But to actually see it clear.

Now, the reason why it's very personal to me is not only that he's black and that it could've been me. Not only the fact that he was not a threat in any way. Not the fact that they took his life without regard. And of him as a person. But the fact that my father was a police officer. And because they committed that act, it makes all police look bad. There are some African Americans that will never, ever trust a police officer because of what they saw. That image will constantly be burned into their mind. And that is unfair. It's unfair to the Floyd family. And it's unfair to our nation, to the people who try to do good, to the cops who go out every day and try to do good.

I have worked with some extraordinary nurses. And. You know, I worked in the ICU and I've seen the elderly come in with bedsores. That I go put my hand through. And I've seen nurses take care of them. Fix them up and then go outside of the ICU into a waiting room and cry. I've seen people come in who have overdosed. And we couldn't bring them back. I have seen nurses. Take care of them. Go outside the room and cry. We are involved, a lot of people that are at these protests. They're our patients. People that are being victimized, they're our patients. And like I said before, what nurses are we're advocates. And there's no better time for us to be advocates than right now.


SARAH: Special thanks to Andre’ Bennett for taking time to talk with us.

Funding for this podcast comes from the Center to Champion Nursing in America, which is a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, AARP, and the AARP Foundation…along with the Pennsylvania Action Coalition.

Stephanie Marudas of Kouvenda Media is our producer and we had production assistance from Brad Linder.

I’m Sarah Hexem Hubbard of the Pennsylvania Action Coalition.

Thanks for joining us.