By Amie Burks, RN, BSN
My name is Amie Burks. I’m a nurse at Hospice of the Panhandle. I would like to share a short memory with you, really a journey with you, on how being a Black African American nurse is in the healthcare profession.
I remember many years ago I had a patient that I needed to meet. I went to her home, and she was surrounded by many family and friends. As I entered the room, I could see the mood change and the expressions on many of their faces, which made me uncomfortable at first. But then I began to do what I was there for, I began to educate the family. I began to talk to the family. I began to make them comfortable and, once I began to make them more comfortable, I became comfortable.
After that, we began to laugh. We shared many stories. She began to even open up herself a little more to me which made me feel wonderful. And, in the end, we realized that we had more in common with each other. We became close with one another and with the family and friends. They began to trust me. I was able to provide care and meet the needs of that family.
In church, I just did this piece on the first Black African American nurse. It brought to light where we’ve come from.
Her name was Mary Eliza Mahoney. She became a nurse in 1879, and she opened the door and set the role for Black African American nurses. She set the role for me. She served white Caucasians and was abused. They still had that slave mentality. I look at what Mary Eliza Mahoney went through. She still went on and now there are health centers in her name. She opened the door and makes me want to be an advocate not only for African American nurses but for all nurses, my patients and my community.
I hope that I’m opening doors for other nurses and also for aides. I started as an aide. Then I became a medical assistant. Next, I became a licensed practical nurse and then a registered nurse. I received my Bachelor of Science in nursing in 2011 and now I’m a nursing manager at Hospice. I like to encourage our aides who want to go to school to become a nurse, and I tell them that I don’t want to hear the excuses. People say that they can’t do it because they have a family. I’ve done it. I had a family and still did it. There are programs out there to help you. I really encourage them and want them to succeed.
Since I began nursing in 1992, things have changed. People are more accepting of African American nurses now, but you still have people who are not ready to accept you 100 percent. There are those who are still set in their minds and are training their family to think the same way. They pass it on to their lineage.
My son experienced discrimination in college, and I explained to him that they don’t know any different. For them, it’s how they’ve learned to think from their family. I told him to be himself, and he’s a professional basketball player now, so I think he’s done pretty well.
The last words that I have for Black African American nurses—really all nurses—are the same ones that I told my son when he decided that he wanted to be a professional basketball player. Never give up and believe in yourself.
Amie Burks, RN, BSN, is a nurse manager with Hospice of the Panhandle. She’s been caring for hospice patients for nearly 10 years.
Hospice of the Panhandle helps people with serious, life-limiting illnesses manage their pain and symptoms wherever the patient calls home. This care is provided to any eligible patient regardless of race, color, national origin or legal status. Hospice’s goal is to meet each patient where they are, celebrating who they are and providing care tailored to meet their individual needs.
For more information about hospice care for yourself or a loved one, call (304) 264-0406 or go to hospiceotp.org.