Our Role in The Fight to End Racism
Adrianna Silva, BSN, RN, CCRN
Fiscal Year 2020 Student Representative to the AANA Education Committee
My fellow SRNAs, as my term comes to a close, I want to thank you for the opportunity you have given me to serve as your Student Representative on the AANA Education Committee. It has been my honor to work alongside such incredible colleagues. Though we did not get to connect in person at Mid-Year Assembly and Annual Congress, I appreciate the opportunities I had to get to know so many of you virtually and at other conferences. The future of our profession is bright, and I truly believe each and every one of you will continue to advance our profession in a positive and constructive trajectory.
I have given great thought about this last article, and my heart truly goes out to everyone experiencing emotions of grief, fear, anger, and confusion. In addition to battling a viral pandemic, we are fighting the pandemic of racism. I believe that every individual regardless of race, religion, gender, creed, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity deserves to be treated with love and respect. I stand by the AANA’s recent remarks that “Racism is wrong, whether intentional or implicit.”4
Starting with the Person in the Mirror
I will be totally honest in saying that I thought I understood the degree to which racism still exists in our modern-day world. I did not. I’m an optimist and always try to see the good in people and in every situation. Current events have really challenged me to push my preconceived notions aside, open my eyes, and reflect on topics like racism and white privilege. After sincerely taking the time to listen to friends and family, I have a new perspective on these terms, and I am very grateful for the opportunity that I have had to do a serious self-assessment.
Through this new cultural lens, I have started to be far more aware of the depth to which racism still exists and the effect it has on people of color. I am shocked at how much I am actually experiencing it in my day to day life. I will be transparent in conveying that I often feel caught in between two cultures: my white and Latin culture. I strive to embrace both sides but often wonder where I fit. Although I identify with my Colombian and Latin roots, I am not often viewed as a female of color and do inadvertently experience white privilege. In contrast, I have witnessed my husband be mistreated and discriminated against as a Latino of color, once by a 10-year-old child. This broke my heart.
I cannot always control how people treat me, a stranger, or those I love most, but I can control the way I treat others. In addition, I ALWAYS have the choice to stand up for what’s right. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we remain silent about things that matter.”
Have the Conversation, Get Involved
So regardless of our ethnicity, how can we be allies in the movement to stop racism?
- We must support people of color and speak up when they know they are being wronged.
- We need to get involved in programs that not only support people of color in healthcare but in all practices including law enforcement, politics, law, teaching, etc.
- We need to exercise our right to vote with educated intent to support leaders committed to putting policies in place that protect people of color and condemn racist actions.
- Lastly, we need to have the conversation.
We need to take the time to listen wholeheartedly to our friends and family of color. Though it’s easier said than done, we must not challenge, disagree, become threatened, or fearful of hearing a perspective other than our own. I always laugh when I think of a family member that once told me we have two ears and one mouth for a reason: to listen to others more than we speak. I always have a lot to say….so I try to be mindful of that piece of wisdom.
How can I get involved in my CRNA Community?
I recently received this question from a student: “In light of ongoing events, as a white person, I have been doing a lot of self-reflection and making an effort to become more self-aware and continue to confront my implicit bias. We are fortunate to take classes such as population health in our DNAP education that highlight systemic racism and health disparities across minority groups. I want to ask about the Diversity CRNA group. Is this just for minorities? How do we promote and encourage diversity in our profession? I figured this is a good place for many of us to start.”
First off, YES! This inquiry made me so proud, and this is such a great opportunity to talk about the Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program.
To answer the question, I reached out to Wallena Gould, EdD, CRNA, FAAN, founder and CEO of this incredible program. She informed me that, “The Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship is a non-profit organization that promotes and advocates to increase racial and ethnic composition in the nurse anesthesia profession and to successfully matriculate into graduate nurse anesthesia programs. From our own website, social media, and national monthly newsletters, we mentor nurses regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender expression, and or military status. We invite anyone who is interested in nurse anesthesia and networking opportunities.”3
To any student wishing to get involved in this program’s grassroots effort, she offers words of advice: “It is not enough to increase representation. Rather, it bends towards more on equitable standing in increasing opportunities for nurse anesthesia faculty and clinical coordinators of color to shape our educational goals. Therefore, it is very important that we embrace and prepare for a chorus of voices to speak out on inequities that persist in clinical education and in the nurse anesthesia profession.”3
In addition to joining this great group of CRNAs and SRNAs, I echo Lena’s recommendation that we all have the opportunity and responsibility to promote diversity within our anesthesia programs, faculty, and educational standards. We accomplish this by getting involved, speaking up, and promoting diversification of our nurse anesthesia leaders.
Greatness Is Determined by Service
My hope for each and every one of us is that we utilize current events as an opportunity to do a self-assessment. We must move beyond our comfort zone and “have the conversation” but most importantly, remember to listen to the voices that have been oppressed. We must have the courage to speak up and stand out, not just because someone is watching but because it’s the right thing to do. Lastly, we must get involved in our community and seek out opportunities to serve.
The Harlem School of Anesthesia 1965 Yearbook states, “Our todays and tomorrows are wrought with a complex of crises and changes. The profile of one dominant figure stands out in the person of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. whose diligence, inspiration, and prudent aggressiveness have pioneered in the achievement of human dignity.”1 Goldie Brangman, a CRNA and the first black president of the AANA, cared for Dr. Martin Luther King Junior after he was admitted for an emergent thoracotomy on September 20, 1958, after an attempted assassination.2 I could quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. until the end of the world but for now, I’ll share one more of his powerful messages. “Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service….You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”
Often, when we are faced with difficult decisions, we have the opportunity to take courage and speak up. The same comes to our role as anesthesia providers when there is a patient safety issue when we are witnessing forms of neglect or malpractice. In these circumstances we also always have two choices: turn our back or stand up for what’s right. Our daily actions will continue to shape the future of a world that relies on us to be skilled anesthesia professionals, leaders in healthcare, and allies in the fight against racism.
When I was first elected as the AANA Education Committee nurse anesthesia student representative, I closed my acceptance speech with this quote by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful devoted people can change the world, after all, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
My fellow SRNAs, as we embark on a journey to become CRNAs, we have a great responsibility to be part of this change both in practice, in our community, and in our world. I have great hope for our future, our profession, and humanity. This is because I know the world is filled with good people who will refuse to be silent, stand for what is right, and cultivate an environment of inclusion and equity.
Brangman G. Harlem School of Anesthesia Yearbook. 1965.
Branch T. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster; 1988:243-245.
Gould W. “Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia.” 23 June 2020.
Jansky K, and Moore R. “https://www.aana.com/Home/Aana-Updates/2020/06/01/Aana-Leaders-Issue-Statement-on-the-Death-of-George-FloydK.” Aana.com, American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, 1 June 2020, www.aana.com/home/aana-updates/2020/06/01/aana-leaders-issue-statement-on-the-death-of-george-floyd.