White Spaces Are Not Safe for Black Faces, Says Shondra J. Brown, FNP-BC

Shondra J Brown, FNP-BC, uses her platform to help Black professionals navigate predominantly White workplaces and encourages them not to conform.

In this month’s NP profile, we feature Shondra J. Brown, FNP-BC, who makes no excuses for being who she truly is. She refuses to conform and encourages others to do the same. Ms Brown is the author of How to Navigate White Privilege in the Workplace, a guide for Black professionals on how to manage microaggressions and aggressive encounters in workplaces.

Brown is a family nurse practitioner who has practiced in settings ranging from primary care to sexual health over the past 25 years. She is now the provider for a sub-acute rehab unit with the VA Medical Center of Buffalo, NY. She has worked in almost every facet of nursing and uses this well-rounded foundation to be an effective nurse practitioner.

Q: What experience helped determine your career path?

NP Brown: As a young mother, I was treated by an NP while I was pregnant. She was the only provider who diagnosed the group B Streptococcus infection that I had suffered with for months. The doctor failed to listen when I told him that the discharge I had was abnormal. One visit with her and 10 days later, I was cured!

I was also fortunate to have 2 mentors throughout my career: adult health NP, Eluid Koseigi, ANP, and Nancy Arbeiter, NP, who is a 40-plus-year career professional. They are awesome and I still reach out to them whenever I have questions.

Q: What are the biggest health challenges facing your community?

NP Brown: Access and compliance. Compliance because of food deserts and expenses. I am from Buffalo, NY, where the mass shooting at a Tops Friendly Market occurred. After the shooting, residents of the area lost the one viable supermarket in the neighborhood. There are places like Save-A-Lot, but other than the local corner stores there isn’t another place for people to shop for food. The supermarket has reopened but I was disappointed that the actual building wasn’t demolished and reconstructed at a new site.

Q: What aspects of your profession are most rewarding?

NP Brown: I love learning something new every single day! I have complex patients on my subacute rehabilitation (SAR) unit, some have endocarditis, and the management is very interesting and a collaborative effort between myself, the pharmacy, and infectious disease specialists. I also love when I see the progression from debility to ability and then they go home, which is always the goal!

Q: What aspects of your profession are most challenging and have you found a way to overcome these challenges?

NP Brown: The most challenging aspect is being the only black NP in my facility. Predominantly White spaces are not safe for Black faces. I have faced many challenges including retaliation and resentment. I am a straight shooter and for some this is grating. However, I have a similar communication style as many of my White colleagues but it’s not received the same way. I have been told my tone is “sharp,” and I’ve been accused of “yelling,” which is never my approach. It is exhausting.

To overcome microaggressions, I continue to be me. I think part of the problem is people want you to conform. I refuse to change what has worked for me my entire life. I am clear and direct and will not beat around the bush and hedge simply to appease those around me. That creates distrust. I also don’t code-switch based on who I am speaking with. My patients wouldn’t understand me anyway if I tried to highbrow them.

Q: What experiences in the workplace drove you to write your book, How to Navigate White Privilege in the Workplace?

navigate predominantly White workplaces
Shondra J. Brown, FNP-BC

NP Brown: When I started the process of writing the manuscript The Black Professional’s Guide, which became my book, I had an encounter with a young White nurse who screamed at me in front of patients and coworkers. She was not fired and continued to have aggressive encounters with other staff members and patients of color. We worked for a Federally Qualified Health Center and I couldn’t believe they allowed someone who was so harmful to a marginalized population to continue to work there.

Many people think that my book is about me and my experiences, however, it truly is a researched body of work. I randomly interviewed people and many of our situations were so similar, it allowed me to write a guide, if you will, on how to work around racism, privilege, and nepotism. My book is purposely funny and it articulates what many professionals experience but can’t find the words to explain. It has been called a “game changer.”

Q: What experiences shaped your love for writing and spoken word?

NP Brown: Isolation. I was very shy as a child and we couldn’t afford to travel, books were vacations for me, and I always imagined myself as the main character or placed myself in the location of the book. Often, I would reimagine endings and storylines.

Q: What advice would you give to a young person of color entering their desired work field?

NP Brown: Know your worth. Young people can afford to move around in order to find themselves. Do not settle or accept less than. Remember that at some point in your career journey path, you will pander. You have to. We must give up something to gain something. That something may be your seat at the table in order to elevate, bringing people along with you.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

NP Brown: You have to love what you do. This is why I write and why I try to be a good provider. If you don’t care and just go through the motions it shows in your outcomes. I cared about my book and my image, which is why I knew the book was excellent. I also go back and re-read my chapters and say, “Dang YOU wrote THIS? Girl, you bad!”

I care about my patients and I aim to provide for them as if they are my own family members because as a Black provider, I don’t have the luxury of treating someone based on a personal like or dislike. Black people have suffered at the hands of others because of this sentiment. I won’t be a perpetrator of that idealism. So, when they come back to visit and say “thank you” I feel amazing!

This article originally appeared on Clinical Advisor