African, Americans and Nursing

African, Americans and Nursing


As a child, one may recall an adult asking them the famous question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Even today, children continue to respond with traditional professions such as a police officer, doctor, firefighter, teacher and so on. A similarity between these occupations is that they all provide some type of service. Our society greatly depends on the service of these individuals and would be in a deal of trouble if there ever became a shortage in these fields. Another occupational field that provides service to our society in nursing.

Although it is doctors who receive the majority of credit when it comes to the medical field; nurses play a vital role in the medical field as well. Registered nurses have a great deal of responsibility because they have to ensure that the doctors’ orders are carried out, which promotes recovery and prevents patients from getting ill.  Nursing is one of the few fields that have no limitations to minority acceptance. African American nurses have been around since the 1800s. This can be credited to a woman by the name of Mary Eliza Mahoney.


A lot of people don’t realize that registered nurses carry on a lot of tasks and responsibilities. Although most nurses fulfil the same graduation requirements, the type of work setting determines the nature and amount of work that is completed. Nurses that work in hospitals are usually assigned to a certain department. These departments consist of paediatrics, maternity, ICU, emergency room, and surgery just to name a few.

The Department of Labor reveals that “when providing direct patient care, they observe, assess, and record symptoms, reactions, and progress in patients; assist physicians during surgeries, treatments, and examinations; administer medications, and assist in convalescence and rehabilitation” (par. 1). Nurses that work in an office environment have quite different duties. Their workload consists of assisting with examinations, administering injections and meds, and filing records.

Nursing homes and facilities for the elderly requires a different workload for nurses. Other than caring for the residents, they evaluate the residents’ health plans and supervise the LPNs and CNAs. Being a nurse can be very time-consuming and stressful.  Nurses may spend significant time walking and standing. Patients in hospitals and nursing care facilities require 24-hour care; consequently, nurses in these institutions may work nights, weekends, and holidays. RNs also may be on call—available to work on short notice. Office, occupational health, and public health nurses are more likely to work regular business hours. Nursing can be very risky and hazardous if you’re not careful.

The Department of Labor points out that, “nurses must observe rigid standardized guidelines to guard against disease and other dangers, such as those posed by radiation, accidental needle sticks, chemicals used to sterilize instruments, and anaesthetics” (par. 11). Initially, nurses had little or no classroom preparation at all. An article published in Encarta suggests that most of the training was based on apprenticeship, with older students teaching the younger ones how to care for patients.

All programs were directed by hospitals, and nursing students provided low-cost service to the institutions; upon graduation, most of them worked as private-duty nurses in patients’ homes (par. 3). Today, in order to become a nurse, you must graduate from an approved nursing program and also complete some sort of clinical experience in a health facility. There are three major educational paths to registered nursing: a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing (BSN), an associate degree in Nursing (ADN), and a diploma. BSN programs, offered by colleges and universities, take about 4 years to complete. AND is the most popular of the three.

ADN programs, offered by community and junior colleges, take about 2 to 3 years to complete. Diploma programs, administered in hospitals, last about 3 years. Only a small and declining number of programs offer diplomas. Nurses should be caring, sympathetic, responsible, and detail oriented. They must be able to direct or supervise others, correctly evaluate patients’ conditions, and determine when consultation is required. They need emotional stability to cope with human suffering, emergencies, and other stresses. Job opportunities for RNs are expected to be very good. The department of labour forecasts that “the employment of registered nurses is expected to grow faster for all occupations through 2012, and because the occupation is very large, many new jobs will result” (par. 24).

Employers in some parts of the country are finding it hard when it comes to attracting and maintaining a sufficient number of RNs, due primarily to an ageing RN workforce and insufficient nursing school enrollments. In order to improve this crisis, it has been suggested that “employers restructure workloads, improve compensation and working conditions, and subsidize training or continuing education” (par. 26). The employment of nurses in hospitals is expected to grow more slowly than in other health sectors. This can be credited to the technological advancements. Procedures that were once done on an inpatient basis can now be done on an outpatient basis. This innovation decreases the demand for hospital nurses. The labour bureau reveals:

Employment in nursing care facilities is expected to grow faster than average due to increases in the number of elderly, many of whom require long-term care. In addition, the financial pressure on hospitals to discharge patients as soon as possible should produce more admissions to nursing care facilities. Job growth also is expected in units that provide specialized long-term rehabilitation for stroke and head injury patients, as well as units that treat Alzheimer’s victims (par. 29).

Employment in home healthcare is also expected to increase rapidly. This is a result of the growing number of older persons with functional disabilities, preference for care in the home, and technological advances that make it possible to bring more complicated treatments into the home. The type of care demanded will require nurses who are able to perform complex procedures (par. 30).

Some may think that nurses aren’t paid enough considering the long hours and difficult workloads that they endure. In fact, nurses receive decent pay compared to other occupations. Median annual earnings of registered nurses were $48,090 in 2002, the middle 50 per cent earned between $40,140 and $57,490, the lowest 10 per cent earned less than $33,970, and the highest 10 per cent earned more than $69,670(par. 32).

America’s first black professional nurse was Mary Eliza Mahoney. Mary Mahoney is known for her outstanding personal career and her exemplary contributions to the local and national organizations. During her time as a nurse, she inspired both nurses and patients with her calm, quiet efficiency and untiring compassion. Mahoney was born a free African American on May 7, 1845, in Dorchester, Massachusetts. She worked for fifteen years at the New England hospital for women and children (now Dimock community health centre) in Roxbury.

As a cook, janitor, washerwoman and an unofficial nurse’s assistant. In 1878 she was admitted as a student into the hospital nursing program at the age of thirty-three. Mahoney graduated from the New England Hospital for women and children training school for nurses in 1879. Out of forty in her class, she and three other people were the only ones to complete the training and go on and get a degree in the nursing field.

In 1909 Mahoney had the chance to give the address at the first conference of the National Association of coloured Graduated Nurses (NACGN). Mahoney ended her career and profession as the director of orphanages in Long Island, New York. Mahoney was loyal to her work. She dedicated her whole life to helping people and proving people wrong. Mahoney never settled down and got married. In 1896 Mahoney became one of the original members of a predominately white nurse’s associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada. Then in 1908, she became the co-founder of the Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. Mary Mahoney became ill and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1923.


After three hard fighting years, the disease claimed her life. She died on January 4, 1926. She is now buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, Massachusetts. To recognize the work that Mahoney did the association started a program to honour Mahoney for her greatness. With the program, they added an award in 1936. Fifty years after Mahoney’s death, she was inducted into the Nursing Hall of Fame. After that, about seventeen years later she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

One may conclude that there are more things to nursing than just taking care of people and following orders from a doctor. A prime example of this is how Mary Mahoney used nursing to break the colour barrier between blacks and whites. She showed society that if one wanted to do something then they will do whatever it takes to get it done.



Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition, Registered Nurses, on the Internet at


Miller, Helen S. (1986.) America’s First Black Professional Nurse: A Historical Perspective. Atlanta: Chi Eta Phi Sorority, Wright Publishing Group.


“Nursing,” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2004


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