In the Spotlight: Harmon P. Mercer

Harmon P. Mercer, RN, MS, CCRN, night education specialist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, is passionate about adult education. He has enjoyed a long career in both the military and private sectors. He started working at Mount Sinai in 1998 in the NICU unit after receiving a nursing degree and serving in the military as captain in the Army Nurses Corp. He is currently working toward his PhD from Adelphi University while maintaining his position at Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Today he shares his career path, struggles as a minority male nurse, and advice for other minority nurses.

What made you decide to go into the nursing field? What inspired you?

My brother was a Navy Corpsman who worked in a Naval Regional Medical Center, then was assigned to the Marine Corps and finally worked with Veterans at the St. Albans Veterans Hospital. I was enlisted in the Navy 11 months before I graduated through the delayed entry program and was in boot camp three weeks after graduating high school. I wanted to follow in my brother’s footsteps and caring for the infirmed seemed honorable and something I could take pride in.

What has been your career path? What led you to where you are today?

I served the United States Navy as a hospital corpsman trained in pediatrics, then neonatal intensive care, and finally in the adult ICU. Afterwards I was assigned to the Marine Corps with the 3rd Combat Engineers and learned of the importance of immediate care through the treatment of my friends, comrades, and my Marine Corps brothers in emergency situations.

I finally ended my enlistment. Upon return from multiple years overseas I arrived home to find that my father had been murdered that day while I waited for him in JFK airport. This is significant because my father wanted me to pursue a career as a physician’s assistant and possibly move on to medical school – but my heart was set on nursing.

I continued to follow my brother’s footsteps with a job as a nursing assistant at the St. Albans VA Hospital while pursuing an AAS to become an RN. Upon graduation I started my career at Mount Sinai Hospital in the medical ICU as a new graduate. I progressed to the title of senior clinical nurse until the job description was eliminated. I then rejoined the military.

What drew you to your current role?

My journey into nursing education began in 2003 after I discovered through my introduction to teaching with the Army Nurse Corps that I had a love for adult education. I then pursued an advanced degree in nursing education while serving as a staff nurse educator to support nursing education at Mount Sinai. I was married to an extremely talented critical care nurse who was asked to support nursing education through teaching and she deferred the opportunity to me as she preferred hands-on patient care. In 2007 a need for an evening/ night education specialist arose at Mount Sinai and I was chosen for the position. I have been there ever since.

Have you had any issues related to being a minority nurse?

The issues I have faced as a minority nurse are vast. I have frequently been identified as assistive staff when approaching the bedside. I have been stereotyped as rough, "street" oriented as a native New Yorker, and familiar with non-professional issues such as having the ability to identify drug quantities while other nurses were giving report, etc. "Hey, Harmon, what does $20 of cocaine look like?”

Being of dual minorities, both ethnicity and gender, I face a smorgasbord of what may be considered issues related to being a minority nurse. One of the most interesting is that as the sole evening/night educator I would like to think I know most of MSH staff but when I am in scrubs at work people sometimes do not acknowledge me. But when I am in dress attire such as suit and tie everyone speaks to me.

What advice do you have for other minority nurses?

The advice I offer to anyone, particularly minority nurses, would be to follow your dream. I have persevered through life changing events, such as, the murder of my father, the death of my mother, my brother, my wife and although I may have slowed my progression I continue to progress nonetheless. I have cared for my brother in the very MICU that I worked with him in, intubated and on life sustaining medication. I have continued school with the threat of wartime deployment and I continue to do my best to accomplish a doctorate in nursing research.

I am a true believer that nurses are born, never created. No matter what, I would have followed the path in nursing set for me.