‘I think the most important thing I learned is that you have to just be true to yourself and treat patients as if they’re your relatives.’
“I always knew I wanted to be a nurse from very early on. If you look back in my high school yearbook, they always ask: ‘Where will you be in 20 years?’ I said, ‘I’ll be head nurse, have my own floor and be in charge of the unit.’ Even for Halloween, I remember Julia Baker, played by Diahann Carroll, was the first black professional nurse on TV. When I saw her, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, she’s gorgeous in that white. I want to be just like that.’ That was another reason I wanted to be a nurse, too, but really to help people. And so, I exceeded that, thank goodness. I retired as director of nursing for the division of women and children [at Elmhurst Hospital].
“I graduated from Glen Cove High School. I started out at Howard University. I had nursing scholarships from the Chi Eta Phi Sorority Inc., which is a nursing sorority that I belong to now. My sophomore year, I was going back to school and I had a roommate, my best friend, and unfortunately, she died in a tragic accident that summer before we were supposed to go back to school on a moped. I was devastated. I just couldn’t see myself in that apartment without her. Luckily, my mother had a friend who knew someone at Adelphi University, and I was able to get into Adelphi. I graduated from Adelphi University and that was my journey.
“The last year at Adelphi, they let you concentrate and do your clinical work in the field that you love, which for me was women and children maternal health. I had a great preceptor, Rosemary Hoffman. She had graduated from Adelphi. She took me on, and she treated me as a new nurse on the unit. It was a wealth of knowledge. I saw so many different things related to maternal child and not related to maternal child. I felt like a sponge. Every time I had clinical, I was so excited to go because it was another opportunity to help people and to teach them. It was a vulnerable population, which I enjoyed working with.
“When I graduated, they offered me a job there, so I was very happy to do that. So, I worked and I had so many great mentors there, especially my preceptor, Rosemary. When I passed my boards, they offered me a job at Queens, so that’s how I got into the city health system.”
I saw women delivering on crack — the poor crack babies.
“After working some time at Queens, I became a staff nurse, assistant head nurse of a small antepartum unit. For a few months, I was the head nurse of labor and delivery in the height of the crack epidemic. I saw women delivering on crack — the poor crack babies. At that point, they would train volunteers we called ‘grandmothers’ who’d come in just to hold and soothe the babies because they were all born addicted to crack. It was a real experience trying to help these poor newborns and their moms, working closely with social work to try to help them.
“After working at Queens, I left and began to go into home care. After being in home care, I found myself having an opportunity to go to hospital ambulatory care in the women and children’s clinics. I was a supervisor in home care, and I became the assistant director of nursing at that point for the women’s health clinic. I stayed there and really tried to devise a clinic so that it was pleasing to women.
“Based on that accomplishment, I was promoted to associate director for all the clinics. That included three or four school-based clinics, other department health sites in the community and all the on-site clinics. At some point, my chief nursing officer came to me and stated they needed to make a change in some of the leadership. She wanted to know if I wanted to come to inpatient nursing for women and children. At that point, I segued into that position, where I stayed and retired.
“I’ve learned a lot in 30 years. I think the most important thing I learned is that you have to just be true to yourself and treat patients as if they’re your relatives or how they want to be treated. You have to listen when you’re in charge of a large number of staff. I tried to take time to listen to each and every one of them if they had a concern about their family, their time or anything, because people just want to be heard. Even if we didn’t agree, we could agree to disagree and try to develop some understanding. Honestly, my role I felt wasn’t as important as my staff. I could have been replaced, but when nurses don’t come to work, patients suffer, so that was the most important.”
Interviewed by Victoria Bell