Boston-based nurse LaDonna L. Christian, RN, MSN, APHN-BC, went from being a volunteer candy striper growing up to her current role as Associate Professor of Practice – Nursing at Simmons College School of Nursing and Health Sciences and Director of the Dotson Bridge and Mentoring Program – where she strives to increase the number of minority nurses in the workforce. From the time she was a young child, she knew her calling – to be a nurse.
How long have you been a nurse?
I’ve been a nurse since I graduated from nursing school in 1983. Back then Rhetaugh Dumas was my dean. She was the first African-American woman to serve as dean at the University of Michigan. She took all the black students to her home for dinner when she first arrived and told us that we had a responsibility to study, graduate and become nurses. She would not accept any excuses. She was my first mentor.
What inspired you to enter nursing?
I always wanted to be a nurse from the time I was a young child. I loved helping people feel better and I knew it was an honorable profession. Years ago there were candy stripers who volunteered in nursing homes and hospitals. I spent one summer as a candy striper in a nursing home and knew for sure that I wanted to become a nurse. I was able to help the elderly with their meals, walking and socializing. My mother, older sister, and younger brother are also all nurses.
What has been your career path? What led you to where you are today?
I spent several years working as a staff nurse on many different medical surgical units. I started teaching at Brockton Hospital School of Nursing in the RN and Patient Care Technician programs, and at the same time I started working as a clinician in the Public Health Clinic. I knew then that I wanted to teach, so I decided it was time to get my master’s degree. After receiving my MSN, I went on to teach at Coppin State University in Baltimore, MD, and eventually came back to Boston in 2009 to serve as faculty at Simmons College in the Dotson Bridge and Mentoring Program. In the second year (2010) of the program, I became the director.
Describe your current position and what impact you have as a nurse in your current role.
Presently I am the director of the Dotson Bridge and Mentoring Program. The program started in 2009 with a goal of improving the nursing course pass rates and NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) pass rates for students of color in the various nursing programs by providing mentoring and different support services. At the program’s inception, the students of color had a 74 percent nursing course pass rate and their NCLEX pass rates was about 75 percent. This average was far below the national average and the average of the non-minority students in the program.
Now, students of color have a course pass rate of about 93 percent and their NCLEX pass rate is 95 percent, which is the same for all students. This year (our fourth year) we graduated our sixtieth nursing student from the Dotson program and the Department of Nursing. The oldest scholar we graduated was 67-years-old. Her goal, after receiving her license, is to go back to her home country and open a nursing facility that cares for the needs of elderly women. As her mentor, her graduation day was one of the proudest days of my career.
Have you had any issues related to being a minority nurse?
As a minority clinician, I have had both negative and positive experiences. I have been called several different racially charged names by my patients. I also had challenges advancing in one institution where I worked despite my strong academic background and having years of clinical experience.
Thankfully, my positive experiences as a nurse far outweigh my unpleasant ones. My resilience comes from my understanding of the big picture. My presence in the field is vital because people of color need to be cared for by nurses who understand their culture and who are culturally sensitive to their needs. I feel my job as director of the Dotson Bridge and Mentoring Program, which aims to increase the number of minority nurses in the workforce, is the most important position I have held.
What general advice do you have for other minority nurses?
Don’t ever let go of your dreams. You should continue to move forward, no matter how long it takes because you never fail until you stop trying. You have a responsibility to assist, heal and advocate for all your patients. It is the only way we will reduce health disparities in our communities. We also have a responsibility to care for each other as minority nurses.
I also encourage nurses to continue to educate themselves. If your schedule is challenging, you should consider an advanced online degree.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
I am presently in the Health Professions Education doctorate program at Simmons College. I hope to complete my Ph.D. in two to three years. I would also like to publish what I have learned about educating and mentoring students of color in academic and clinical settings. I hope to develop a mentoring resource center for all minority nursing students to get the help they need as they pursue a career in nursing.