One of the most refreshing experiences while working at Shearwater Health is talking to our international nurses. I enjoy the candid feedback – both positive and negative – often delivered with a smile, a bit of humor, and always respect.

I admire the courage our nurses show to take the leap to come to the U.S. To take care of our patient population. Gain more experience. Advance their careers. And improve the lives of their families.

I have gained a lot of perspective through these conversations.

But one of the most insightful conversations to date was with one of our young Jamaican nurses, Gisselle, on a difficult topic: racism at work.

Racism is a topic often easier ignored or pushed under the table, especially if it’s at your place of employment. Racism at work comes in many forms and affects every type of person. It never leads to positive feelings or outcomes. The U.S. has made headlines for the past couple of years because of racial issues. From wanting to tighten up immigration and ban certain types of people from the country, to institutional injustices and the presence of a nationalist movement. These relevant issues make having discussions about racism more necessary and poignant.

Gisselle (pictured on the right)

When Gisselle was asked if she had experienced racism, she paused, smiled, and gave one of the most inspiring answers to a difficult question that I have come across.

She started by saying she has “not experienced overt racism, but some covert racism.” Covert racism refers to racism that is more subtle than obvious abuse or ridicule. This often looks like speaking to or doing something to a person that gives them less dignity as a human simply because of their race.

How Gisselle decided to handle these covert emissions of racism make me want to embrace her for her fortitude and judgement. Gisselle decided that

“I will show them that I am a good nurse and a friendly person. I know that I will change their mind by my actions. I know that I will break them of these thoughts.”

Gisselle is determined that she will not let others around her define her or think that she is lacking or ill-equipped in anyway because of her race. She will show them how she defines herself with dignity.

Yes, Gisselle, you showed them who you are. You are a brave, compassionate nurse whom we are fortunate to call a Shearwater nurse. We are fortunate to have you in this country caring for our friends and family. With you, they will receive the best nursing care available, delivered with compassion and a bright smile.

Thank you for your insight and your example. We hope your perspective will resonate with other international nurses who struggle with racism at work.

Melissa Lacy, MSN, FNP-BC
VP, Clinical Services