From the Bedside to the Barbershop: The Natural Connection Between Nursing and Community Advocacy
In school, Aron King, MS, RN, always gravitated toward science and medicine. After shadowing different health professionals, he noticed it was always the nurses making the difference, so he became a nurse.
Growing up, Carter Todd, MS, MBA, RN, CCRN, spent a lot of time in hospitals with his family. Most kids would have been scared, but he loved being in a place where people were getting better, so he became a nurse.
Julius, Aron, and Carter are leaders in the National Black Nurses Association, an organization that supports Black nurses as they strive to provide the best health care possible for their communities. Julius is the president of the Greater New York chapter, while Carter and Aron are in Sacramento, serving in the Capitol City chapter as the president and secretary, respectively. Though they may be separated by nearly 3,000 miles, they are united in one mission: innovatively tackling healthcare disparities one conversation at a time.
From COVID-19 infections to chronic conditions like diabetes, from maternal health outcomes to opioid overdoses, the underlying health disparities affecting the Black community are staggering. Black individuals in the U.S. are three times more likely to contract COVID-19 and nearly twice as likely to die from it than white individuals. Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that Black adults were 60% more likely to be diagnosed with, and twice as likely to die from, diabetes compared to white adults. What's most troublesome is Black Americans are also less likely to seek proper treatment, less likely to have access to quality health education, and less likely to talk about health concerns.
Julius, Carter, Aron and their colleagues at the NBNA are trying to address these issues in their communities through innovative, early interventions. One of these innovations is the Barbershop Health Talks, a unique collaboration between the two coastal chapters that seeks to meet Black men, not only where they are, but where they are most comfortable.
When Carter was in graduate school, he wrote his thesis on the barbershop as a hub of cultural influence for Black men. Coupling this research with his experience at the bedside, he knew that it was often difficult for patients of color to talk about their health and have their questions answered in the traditional hospital or medical care setting.
“The barbershop is a place where Black men can go and have an open discussion, voice their opinions, voice their fears, and not be judged for it,” said Carter. “A lot of different types of topics are covered in the barbershop and whenever someone talks about diabetes, COVID-19 or any other health topic there, I just want them to do so with the most up-to-date facts."
The men agree that early interventions, like the Barbershop Health Talks, work because they are proactive. For Carter, this fact is critical. He argues that by the time patients come to the hospital, it is often too late. The proactive nature of the Barbershop Talks allows Black men to talk freely and comfortably about their health, before they reach the point of having to go to the emergency room.
Aron King (left) and Carter Todd (right) speak at an event in Sacramento.
“We wanted to go beyond the old way of doing things and actually spark a discussion,” said Aron. “In those 30 to 45 minutes, whether you're getting lined-up or getting a full haircut, you're able to just engage with people in the barbershop and just start talking about health.”
The Barbershop Talks are just one facet of the community outreach executed by these NBNA chapters in New York and Sacramento. But, according to Julius, they can apply what they’ve learned from that successful community outreach approach to other critical health equity issues. The Greater New York chapter has launched a range of grassroots initiatives to tackle health equity issues that most significantly impact the Black community. From Black maternal health panels, where moms are invited to share their stories, to nightclubs, where NBNA members distribute information to patrons about preventing opioid overdoses. For them, finding innovative ways to tackle the setting is a key part of tackling the conversation, and the underlying health challenges at that.
Community means everything for Julius, Aron and Carter. They became nurses to make a difference and help others heal, and they became community health advocates to directly give back to the communities that built them, and the communities they serve.
“Nurses are natural innovators. I think we're really good at connecting the dots and being the bridge from patient to practice,” said Carter. “This comes from us being at the bedside, having the conversations, having the relationships with families, patients and the community.”