Annual Diverse Nurses conference celebrates the power of diversity and inclusion
Diversity and inclusion are among the most powerful core values held by nurses, keynote speaker Beverly Malone told the audience at the Diverse Nurses Connection Conscious Care Conference Feb. 10 in the Christian Hospital Detrick Auditorium.
The conference theme was “Choosing Awareness, Internally and in the Communities We Serve.” The day featured presentations, exercises and discussions geared to celebrating diversity and promoting inclusion.
Malone, who’s had a long and highly distinguished career, currently serves as CEO of the National League for Nursing. She told the audience that diversity and inclusion dovetail with other core nursing values, especially integrity.
“Integrity is respecting the wholeness of our patients,” Malone said. “We say, ‘No matter who you are, we will take care of you.’”
Diversity and inclusion can also steer nurses toward “co-creating and implementing … transformative strategies” in organizations, communities or on nursing units, she said. “Nurses are some of the most difficult people about our ideas. But affirming the uniqueness of each person and the differences of ideas is very powerful.”
That power encourages what she called “cliff behavior” — thinking and working outside of your comfort zone, “without a safety net.” Falling off the cliff is less important than how you recover, she said.
“People will judge you, not on your fall, but on how you get up from the fall.”
She also discussed measures an organization must take to become truly diverse, noting that hosting an event like the Diverse Nurses conference indicates that BJC is committed to the work that’s needed to become just as inclusive as it is diverse.
In addition to Malone’s speech, the conference featured a panel of male nurses who discussed their experiences in a female-dominated field.
The panel included Keith Outlaw, Charles Johnson, Allen Fasnacht and Martin Gitonga from Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and Gary Durbin from Christian Hospital.
Each described their very different path to a nursing career. Outlaw, for instance, had originally wanted to be a doctor, but found he was better suited to nursing. Johnson went to nursing school after retiring from the St. Louis City Police Department. Durbin, who has cerebral palsy, was inspired by the Shriners (as in Shriners’ Hospitals for Children) who advocated for him as a child.
Though none of them said they had faced outright discrimination because they’re men, most encountered misconceptions about male nurses. For instance, because he usually wears a suit on the job, Fasnacht said people often assume he’s a doctor. Outlaw remembered a time when a young African American girl visiting BJH found out he was a nurse and then turned to her brother, saying, “I told you there could be boy nurses.”
Male nurses are as capable of giving patients compassionate care as female nurses, Durbin said. “Nursing is not just a job,” he said. “It’s a passion.”
Dave Brewer, BJC Institute for Learning and Development consultant at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, presented a session on journeying toward inclusion. After talking about BJC’s commitment to advancing a culture of diversity and inclusion, Brewer shared his own journey toward becoming more inclusive. An important way to do that is to talk and have “curious conversations” — that is, talking and asking questions about a culture or an experience you’re unfamiliar with, he said.
He then led an exercise designed to help start curious conversations. Audience members wrote true statements about themselves — such as “I grew up in an urban community” or “I came from a very religious family” — on sheets of paper, then were asked to hold them up so others could read them. Brewer instructed them to find someone who had written the opposite of their statement and start a conversation by asking about that statement, without sharing views or judgment.
The point of a curious conversation, he reminded the audience, is to learn about and understand others’ experiences, rather than judging them. Audience members spent the next 10 minutes meeting and conversing.
Brewer concluded the session by urging the audience to continue using the curious conversation techniques — both on the job and in daily life.
Other sessions throughout the day included a “Blue Table Talk” discussion featuring BJC chief nurse executive Denise Murphy; Barnes-Jewish Hospital chief nurse executive Angelleen Peters-Lewis and St. Louis Children’s Hospital chief nurse executive Peggy Gordin sharing “words to live by”; a plaque presentation to Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis president and CEO Michael McMillan in recognition of the League’s Community Mobile Health Unit, which provides free health services to uninsured residents; and a diversity beads activity, How Diverse is Your Universe.