During his three-decade career as a nurse, Eric J. Williams, DNP, RN, CNE, has often been the first male or African-American to hold his position, including in his current roles as the first male president of the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) and the first African-American male faculty member at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, Calif., where he serves as assistant director, faculty leader and professor of nursing. We spoke to Dr. Williams about several current NBNA initiatives, his research into levels of cultural competence among nursing students and his unique perspective as a male and minority nurse.
NN: Why did you decide to become a nurse? Who (or what) inspired you?
Eric: My father, who was an army veteran, suffered a massive stroke when he was 38 years old, which resulted in left-sided paralysis. I was in the second grade and observed the family-centered care and compassion he received from nurses for 14 years. While I was in high school, I decided to enter the nursing profession.
NN: How has your status as a male minority nurse impacted your career?
Eric: As a male nurse and a male nurse of color, I want to serve as a role model for all men. When I graduated from nursing school, men comprised just three percent of the nursing profession. Today, we represent 10 percent of the nursing workforce.
NN: You’ve done a lot of research on cultural competency. What has surprised you most about your findings?
Eric: It surprised me how much more work needs to be done. Improving cultural competence requires a conscious effort of individuals, organizations and agencies that provide healthcare. The United States is ethnically and racially diverse, so cultural competence is essential to providing holistic healthcare services.
The ability to be open-minded and nonjudgmental is imperative. We need to meet people where they are in life. Patients thrive in environments that are nurturing and supportive. An awareness of culture-specific behaviors, beliefs and actions of minority communities will assist each nurse in the appreciation of differences within healthcare customs and norms.
NN: Why did you decide to get involved with professional organizations like the NBNA and how has it impacted your career?
Eric: In 1984, I joined NBNA as a student nurse. After attending my first conference in New Orleans, I was overwhelmed with the level of sophistication, knowledge and skills of many of the professional nurses I met. My involvement with NBNA has provided leadership and advocacy experiences for me that have allowed me to be a change agent in an ever-evolving nursing profession, as well as the ability to navigate systems of change and amplify the voice of more than 150,000 African-American nurses in the U.S.
NN: What are some of the current projects or initiatives that you are working on with NBNA?
Eric: During my presidency, we have developed many initiatives, including a Collaborative Mentorship Program, a Violence Reduction Program and a Global Health Committee. Each of these programs and initiatives plays a major role in preparing the next generation in their nursing careers and fostering their abilities to eliminate disparities that often impact communities of color.
NN: The U.S. is currently experiencing a nursing shortage. To help combat this problem, what do you think hospitals and healthcare systems should be doing to better appeal to a diverse workforce?
Eric: Maintaining a conscious effort to recruit and retain diverse nurses is imperative to the success of the nursing profession. The positive impact diverse nurses have on patient care outcomes has been well-documented. Hospitals and healthcare systems can partner with academia and professional organizations to offer incentives or financial assistance to assist diverse student nurses in completing nursing programs.
NN: What is the most exciting milestone you’ve witnessed in nursing over the past few years?
Eric: Nurses are major players in the advancement of healthcare. I think nurses are getting more involved in the landscape of our profession. More nurses are earning advanced degrees as well, which has elevated the standard of care throughout the nation.
NN: Do you have any advice for men who are interested in pursuing nursing?
Eric: Go for it! There are so many tremendous opportunities in nursing for advanced education, leadership and a satisfying career. To me, nursing is one of the most rewarding and viable professions anyone can embark on to make a difference in the lives of others.
To learn more about the NBNA, visit NBNA.org.