This post was originally published on Sacramento Observer

By Genoa Barrow

Whether he’s in front of patients or behind the scenes, fighting for the wider community’s health and wellbeing, Carter Todd is leading by example.

Todd serves as the founding president of the Capitol City Black Nurses Association (CCBNA). He’s also got a lot of initials after his name – MS, RN and CCRN, signifying his desire for continued education and professional growth and development.

The last two years have been tough on nurses. Todd, 34, changed jobs since the beginning of the pandemic, going from a pediatric and cardiac nurse in the UC Davis Medical Center’s ICU to an assistant nurse manager at Kaiser Permanente Roseville. He remains dedicated to the patients he sees no matter where he sees them.

“Same guy, different scrubs,” he said.

Todd hails from the Central Valley, but was familiar with Sacramento because his twin brother, a fellow athlete, was a pitcher for Sacramento State and Todd often visited to see him play. Their parents also lived locally. “One weekend,” he said, “I just never left.” 

Todd had two beloved aunts who were nurses. “I remember growing up, they were just very happy people and I loved their lives, I feel like they just had it figured out,” he recalled. “And I love what they got to do. So, when I went into the hospitals to see various family members with illnesses, I would think that’s what our aunties do and they have a really cool job.”

In high school he thought of translating that care into working as a firefighter or paramedic.

“I never really thought that nursing was for me because I didn’t know any Black men nurses, let alone men who are nurses, so not until college did I say, ‘This is the path I want to pursue.’”

After playing college football, Todd took a nontraditional path to nursing. He obtained an associate degree in Merced, then transferred to Sacramento State. A first-generation college graduate, he left with a bachelor of science in occupational health and safety. He also earned a bachelor’s degree from Samuel Merritt. He later obtained a master’s in health care leadership from UC Davis’ Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing and an MBA in health care management from Western Governors University.

“It was really valuable time for me,” he said. “It’s allowed me to see a real good vantage point of the education system here in California. When I speak to students, I can speak to most of them because I’ve been in almost every college classroom.”

Todd views outreach with the CCBNA as an opportunity to talk up the nursing profession and encourage other Black men to enter the field.

“We know that there’s a lot of health disparities in the Black male community, specifically. My own biased belief is that by having more Black men in nursing we can mitigate those disparities,” Todd said. “You have more men who can speak to the problems of the Black men, who can listen and hear and understand where they’re coming from and maybe get more accurate histories and ask questions that other providers might not know to.”

A Class Act

Todd hopes he has inspired some of the young people he has talked with to go into nursing themselves. “I do know that some of the handshakes and hugs I’ve had in the high schools, at health fairs, at community events, I know that that spark has been lit in several individuals and I’m excited at that alone.”

The Capital City Black Nurses Association won a national award for most males in a mid-sized chapter in 2021. Todd and other members participate in several national groups as well.

“As we practice bedside, as we move up the ranks within our health systems and become leaders in the health care sphere, specifically here on the West Coast, there’s just not a lot of Black men represented in the nursing profession,” he shared. “Being a part of a national brand like National Black Nurses Association helps us tap into that network in being able to learn from other CEOs, other executives, who are Black men, who we can have conversations with and learn from and be mentored by, that we wouldn’t necessarily have access to over here.”

As a professional, Todd regularly battles misconceptions.

“There’s a stigma around male nurses that we are not as compassionate,” he said. “My being grown and raised in the pediatric ICU, that’s dealing with sick and dying children and at its core, that’s who we are as compassionate nurturers, as nurses, regardless of who puts on that RN badge.”

Nursing isn’t as much a hard sell for Black men as it is a different sale, Todd said.

“Men are motivated by different factors than women when pursuing a career field,” he shared. “I find that talking about the financial benefits of becoming a nurse, specifically here in Northern California, is a great strategy to recruit more men into nursing. Historically, in our culture, men are expected to provide for their family, they’re expected to provide for their children and maybe their mothers or a relative, so speaking to the financial kind of benefits of the nursing profession is huge.”

Todd said he appreciates the varied aspects of working in nursing. 

“You can work inpatient, you can work in a clinic, you can work for an insurance company, you could touch people, you don’t have to touch people – there are just so many different venues that nurses can practice and I think that is an exciting sell as well.”

Exposure, he said, is priceless.

“We’re very fortunate at CCBNA that we have a lot of leaders in health equity academia who are part of our network. We’ve been able to learn, to study, to implement interventions from a cultural humility lens that allows us to continually learn, continually assess and reevaluate that we are meeting everyone’s needs.

“In the Black community specifically, I think in the last two years since the murder of George Floyd, those efforts have been amplified. It’s a very special time for the Black community to make sure that we are taking steps forward and that we have the attention of everyone that we’ve been calling for for years now,” Todd said.

In 2020, Todd spoke out about Floyd’s murder and joined other area leaders in calling for an end to the violence that’s being perpetrated against members of the Black community.

Family practice

Todd counts himself lucky that he and his family have been relatively healthy during the pandemic. How does he avoid burnout with such stressful jobs? “By learning to give myself grace when I’m overwhelmed, by having an amazing partner who understands and supports me through it all and by having a good team at CCBNA, who lightens the load for all of us and keeps us motivated,” Todd said. “And by leaning on all my mentors, men that I look up to, like CJ Marbley out of New Orleans CNO, who is living the lifestyle that I hope to once live as far as professionally and then men like President Barack Obama.”

“If I think I’m overwhelmed with my schedule, what do I think President Obama’s schedule looks like? It’s trying to keep that perspective and understanding that with time everything gets better.”

Todd and his wife have been married five years.

“I’m blessed beyond belief. My wife has an equally, if not more, taxing job working in the pediatric ICU. She deals with death and dying of young children daily in her world. For her, me being a registered nurse and being able to empathize and understand, that is paramount to her not burning out. Equally, she believes in my work and she supports me to continue to go to school and I continue to support her.”

Now that Todd is done with his master’s studies, his wife is back in school.

“She’s pursuing her endeavors in palliative care, which we’re excited about,” Todd said.

Being a “solid team,” he said, is tremendously valuable. “A hard day for us is different than a hard day for someone else who may work in an office,” he shared. “Being able to understand, ‘Hey, I just need a moment, I just need to take a shower first’ or ‘Hey, I can’t talk about that today, we need to table this until I’m in a better space.’”

The couple have two children, a son and daughter. Both Todd toddlers are a long way from making decisions about their future career choices. Dad said he’d encourage them both to follow in his footsteps, regardless of gender.

“It’s the same,” he said. “First and foremost, whether it be playing the cello, whether it be becoming a nurse or a physician or anything, I just want them to be happy and productive members of society. I am supportive and I will tell them that we have the best profession, the best hours, we get to make an impact and all that good stuff.”

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