“I’ve been called the n-word in some of my situations taking care of patients. I remember being called that. I mean, that hurt me to the core.”
Amie Burks, a 55-year-old nurse providing care to hospice patients in Martinsburg, West Virginia, says she’s been mistreated by white patients a number of times over her career.
One situation in particular left her emotionally distressed.
After being called the n-word, she “left out of that patient’s room and went into the bathroom.”
“I cried, but I buckled up and I had to go back out there to do my job because that’s what we’re called to do,” she says.
Unfortunately, encounters with racism are not uncommon for Black nurses. Burks and a third-generation nurse who persevered against racial mistreatment, are among the many Black nurses who report experiencing acts of racism.
According to a survey released by the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing, in which over 5,600 nurses participated, 92% of Black nurses reported experiencing racism on the job.
In a field where Black people make up only 10% of all registered nurses, racism in nursing doesn’t just come from patients.
Black nurses say 70% of racist acts come from leaders, 66% from peers, and 68% from patients.
Burks, who worked her way up from a certified nursing assistant to a registered nurse, says she hasn’t always been respected by colleagues in her workplaces. Sometimes she receives a “look” or doesn’t feel she’s properly acknowledged when introducing herself.
She thought maybe once she got her degree, she’d gain more respect.
“You’d think that would validate you. You still did not get that recognition,” she says.
But that didn’t stop her from moving up in the ranks as a nurse. Burks found her calling in nursing as a sophomore in high school. Still dedicated to the field, she’s now a nurse manager, where she oversees others.
Now, when one of her employees experiences racism on the job, she can do something about it.
Just a few weeks ago, after one of Burks’ employees was called the n-word, she removed her from that patient’s home.
And even though the employee said she was “OK,” Burks made it clear that the racial slur was unacceptable, telling her, “‘As your supervisor, it’s still my job to protect you. So, I feel bad that you were placed in this situation. In 2022, here we are still in this situation.’”
Feeling like “a mother bear,” Burks says she’s thankful for the leadership position she’s in.
“I thank God the Lord has given me the knowledge to overcome, where he has put me in a situation where I can help many people today to see their growth and the worth that they have,” she says.
Reflecting on her experiences, Burks says ultimately, things won’t change until racism is no longer handed down to younger generations.
“Until we break the generational curse of racism, it’s going to keep happening. And it starts at home, unfortunately,” she says.
With a daughter who desires to become a nurse, Burks says the best part about being a Black nurse is inspiring young Black women to join the field.
She herself was inspired by Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first licensed Black nurse in the U.S.
“The best thing about being a beautiful Black nurse is to let other Black young ladies know that they can do it too — and let other people see that African-American people, that we are queens. That we are somebody. That we are chosen. That we are special. That we are that special diamond. That we are sparkling.”