everyday racism

My Patient Didn't Want a Black Nurse

'I have a bachelor’s degree in nursing and I have a master’s degree. And I still wasn’t good enough to provide care for her because of my skin color.'

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Neosha Washington is a registered nurse who lives and works in Houston, Texas. When a patient refused to be treated by her due to her race – despite her qualifications and experience – she was stunned. This is her experience in her own words. 

I am a registered nurse and I see many patients of all different colors. 

I remember distinctly going up to the bedside to interview one of my patients and she responded as such: “What is your role? What are you doing here?” 

And I said, “Ma’am, I’ll be your nurse today.”

And she’s like, “My nurse?” She said, “What do you mean, you’re my nurse?” 

And I said, “I’m your nurse.” 

So she specifically told me, after stating my role – I said it multiple times – and then she came to me and she said, “Well, how did you become a nurse?” 

And at that point, I just kind of stopped. Because I had already explained to her several times that I would be taking care of her, that I was her nurse. I showed her my badge, I identified myself as a health care professional. And she basically told me: “I don’t want you as my nurse. Can someone send another nurse.” 

So that was my experience with racism. It was very subtle, but I knew exactly what she meant by that. She didn’t want a black nurse. 

It resonated with me because when you’re delivering care, we’re taught to not see color. We are there to provide a service and take care of our patients. And it baffled me that people can be ill and still have that racist spirit. You’re sick, you need a service, you need to be taken care of. So it doesn’t really matter. 

We’re all qualified. I have the same amount of schooling – actually, I had more schooling than the nurse that I was replaced with. I have a bachelor’s degree in nursing and I have a master’s degree. And I still wasn’t good enough to provide care for her because of my skin color. 

Illustrations by Tony Pierce

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