A Black Nurse Talks About Serving Her Community Amidst Pandemics and Protests

“Each of us, right here, right now—we are the resistance.”
Jaye L. Knight

Resistance comes in many forms. I continue to use my platform to amplify black voices, and share true stories from Black frontline workers. I had the opportunity to interview my homegirl Whitney Harris, a Black Nurse working on the front lines to ensure that the black community is well cared for during a global pandemic.


Can you tell me a bit about your journey to becoming a nurse?

My journey started at Hampton University where I graduated with my BSN in nursing. While I was still in school I did an internship at Johns Hopkins Hospital and once I finished school, I worked in the pediatric intensive care unit. I had been there for about 2 years when I made the decision to go to grad school at UCLA. I had attended a summer internship at UCLA while in undergrad. I was blessed to receive a fellowship that covered almost the entire program. Once I completed my studies I graduated as an Advanced Practice Nurse with dual certification as a Pediatric Acute Care Clinical Nurse Specialist and a Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner. I continued to work at UCLA in the hospital as a bedside nurse in the PICU for the next 6 months and then decided to move back east. I became a travel nurse for a short period and then began working as a Clinical Nurse Specialist at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in the PICU. After being in that role for two years, I then moved to management and I am now working as a Nurse Practitioner Program Director.

What inspired you to become a nurse?

When I was young, my grandparents would take me with them to visit church members in the hospital and I remember being fascinated by everything. I never felt scared in that environment and once I went to college and started clinical I knew I had found my career.

How long have you been working in your field?

March 2020 makes ten years!

What does a typical workday look like?

Spending time with my staff, collaborating with other disciplines, designing initiatives specific to advanced practices nurses, managing schedules, interviewing and hiring new team members, that’s just a few things. As a nurse leader I spend my day advocating for my team and what our needs are in the hospital. Nurse Practitioners are such a valuable asset to the health care system because we have a wide scope of practice and a commitment to give safe high quality care. 

What has your experience been like working during COVID-19?

Working in NYC we quickly became the epicenter and I can tell you that my team adapted to their patient needs. Nurses don’t receive pandemic training in school because they’re so rare, and so all we could do was jump in and help. I spent a lot of sleepless nights trying to make sure we had enough staffing, that people were taking care of themselves, and helped to put processes in place for NPs to be heard throughout every change.

In light of the recent events after the murder of George Floyd, how has this impacted you and how you show up at work?

I show up to work the same, but with a deep sadness in my heart. It’s hard to be a leader and put a smile on knowing that someone who could be my brother, cousin, or uncle was killed on camera. Discussing politics at work can be a difficult path to navigate. As health care providers we’re not supposed to have bias or judge, but we’re human and humans have bias and judgment even if it’s unconscious. There are numerous studies showing black women die at a higher rate of pregnancy, black people receive less pain management because we’re not believed when we ask for pain medicine, black people often have to go to multiple providers to receive adequate care because our health complaints go unheard. We’re already sick and dying from COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate, now coupled with blatant racism and senseless killings, it’s too much. It has not been easy to show up to work and pretend, that’s for sure.

What should citizens know about navigating through this pandemic from a medical standpoint?

Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth when in public areas and wash your hands frequently! I can not say that enough, this is not a joke and people are dying. Not only are they dying but they’re dying alone.  Also, the myth that it’s only effecting people with pre-existing conditions is untrue. Anyone can contract coronavirus and become imminently ill.

How are you taking care of yourself?

Prayer first and foremost. I ask for God’s protection and covering everyday when I leave the house. Weekly Bible study with my church group. FaceTime and Zoom with friends and family and a lot of Netflix, Hulu, & HBO. (Maybe a glass of wine too lol!).

We thank our good sis Whitney for continuing to show up for us every single day on the front lines.


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