A #MeetMoxieNurse Interview with Nurse Kay, BSN, RN, RN-BC, as told to Angela Vallillo, MPH, BSN, RN
Angela: Hi Kay! Tell us about yourself. What is your background, education and the like? Where did you grow up?
Kay: Hey, my name is Kelita or @nursekayknows! I am a first generation Haitian American, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I started in nursing at 16 years old. My high school had an LPN program where I became an LPN at 17 years old (just a couple days before my 18th birthday!) Afterward, I went to an LPN to RN associate degree bridge program. Then, I completed an RN to BSN program. In 2022, I graduated with my masters degree in nursing, and I’m currently a board certified family nurse practitioner. I’ve worked in acute and subacute rehab, long-term care, med-surg, telemetry, PCU, ICU overflow, ED, & CDU, and even on medical missions to underserved communities. In September 2021, I started working as a travel nurse.
Angela: Awesome! Welcome! Why did you choose to become a nurse? How did you choose your specialty?
Kay: I’ve always been interested in nursing, but I won’t lie, it wasn’t my first choice. I was very unsure about what I wanted to do with my life, but I was fascinated by things like writing, music, and performing arts. My parents, seeing something in me that I didn’t even see in myself, encouraged me to attend my high school, where my love for nursing began. Choosing my specialty was difficult because I did have my heart set on pediatrics, but there weren’t any open positions at the time. So I started working with adults in rehab and finally transitioned over to PCU. During that time, I realized that I was more comfortable working with adults, especially those in critical situations. Working as a travel nurse has reinvigorated my role because I’m able to work in many different specialties based on my experience.
Angela: That’s amazing! Who is your role model?
Kay: First and foremost, my role model is my mom. She graduated from a nursing program while working full-time as a CNA. English was her second language and I saw how determined she was to study and succeed. This gave me the courage to pursue my own dreams. She would pull all-nighters with me and be my sounding board when I needed to vent. One of my other role models was my LPN instructor who showed me what I wanted my career to look like. He was a professor and a nurse practitioner, and helped me to realize how being a nurse practitioner could help me become a better nursing educator, which was my ultimate career goal.
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Angela: Now for the fun part, tell me about your business; NurseKayKnows. How did it come about?
Kay: I call NurseKayKnows my happy accident. I never set out to be an influencer during the pandemic. It was very hard to talk to my non-nursing friends about everything we had to deal with. That’s when I created NurseKayKnows from the advice of some of my friends. I honestly thought that only a couple of my friends would follow me, but I realized that my journey in my experiences resonated with a lot of people. Then, I started creating reels because I was tired of feeling sad about the circumstances that we had to deal with in healthcare. I figured: let’s laugh instead of cry, and that’s how my platform began to grow and become this great safe space for nurses and healthcare workers! I’m glad that, through my profession, I’ve been able to help educate new and experienced nurses, advocate for change in the profession, and encourage and uplift nurses and potential nurses. I’m glad that when people look at my content, they can see themselves – a first generation, daughter of immigrants who’s thriving in the profession. They can look toward my example and see a place for themselves in nursing.
Angela: I love that. Would you be willing to share some of your experiences in the healthcare system as a Black nurse? What are some key things that you would like to change?
Kay: As a Black nurse, one of the major things that I deal with are microaggressions. These would be thinly veiled comments about my hair (especially when worn natural), questioning my credentials, or even assuming I’m a CNA or the housekeeper. I’ve always felt like I had to present a certain persona, also called code switching, toward my patients in order to be respected. It feels like you’ve already been discredited before you even walk into a patient’s room.
Another challenge has also been dealing with the inability to access certain opportunities. There are some areas of nursing that are gatekept from Black and POC nurses; like critical care, pediatrics, and labor and delivery. I always felt like it was difficult for me to crack into these fields because of wanting a certain demographic on those units.
Another issue for me has always been patients who exhibit overt racism, including psychiatric patients and elderly dementia/Alzheimer’s patients. For some patients, I can not go into the room or switch my patient assignment, but when it’s a psychiatric patient or an Alzheimer's patient, I have to deal with the brunt of their vitriol because it’s a part of their disease process. Their words, however, make me feel like I’m chipping away inside.
I would love to change the opportunities that are available for Black nurses. When you see yourself in a space, you can imagine yourself being there. That’s why I love when Black nurses are in specialty areas because it helps those who aspire to be in those specialties feel like they can go there. I also feel like more Black nurses should be involved in nursing leadership. There are a lot of issues that Black nurses face because there’s nobody that looks like them that’s advocating for them. When Black women and Black nurses are in leadership positions, we can advocate for change to make nursing a more inclusive space for all.
Angela: Thank you for sharing those experiences. What advice would you give to someone who looks like you wanting to go into nursing?
Kay: My advice is to just do it! 9.9% of all nurses are Black. We need more Black nurses so that we can continue to have diversity in the profession. When patients of color see a Black nurse, a lot of them feel comfortable because they know that they have someone in their corner. It also helps Black youth want to pursue nursing. The medical profession realizes that we are here and there’s a space for us! I also encourage Black nurses to join professional organizations. Organizations such as the NBNA or Chi Eta Phi are professional organizations that are geared towards Black nurses. There you understand how much power you have and you realize that you’re not alone.
Angela: Yes, such great advice! And what are your goals as a nurse, bedside and beyond?
Kay: One of my biggest goals in nursing is to work in nursing education. I want to be a resource and help encourage and uplift the next generation of nurses. I am actually going to be achieving my goal very soon because I will be starting in nursing professional development at one of my local hospitals. Another goal of mine is to open a school to train HHAs and CNAs. As a Haitian American, I know that finding a job as a new immigrant is very difficult. Schools like the one I want to create can help those coming into the country to get a great job in the medical field and help begin the path toward upward mobility and financial freedom.
Angela: And finally, what is something about you, not nursing related, that you want people to know about you?
Kay: I feel like, as nurses, our identity is so inextricably linked with the profession, that people tend to forget that we are more than just nurses. I love music and love to sing - it’s something I’ve been doing since I was a kid. I love Broadway and musicals – I try to see shows multiple times a year. Fun fact about me – I’m a speed reader! Faith is a very important part of who I am. I love fashion, Disney/Marvel, and trivia. I want people to know that I’m more than just the nurse that comes to their bedside. I’m more than the nurse that’s on social media. I’m a complex individual made up of so many different things, and that I prioritize being seen as Kelita more than I prioritize being seen as the nurse!