SELF-CARE IN A TIME OF COVID

THE BLACK FRONTLINE
4 min readOct 18, 2021

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A Black Nurse Breaks Her Silence

Shutter stock Image of a Black Nurse in mask and scrubs

My name is Esther Akinpelu. I’m a registered child nurse, I work in paediatrics in London.

I love nursing, I love paediatrics. People think of it as sad and depressing, but I loved it, I always wanted to work with children. There’s variety — from babies to adolescents, and I love that range.

Self-care for me meant leaving a job I loved but grew to hate because of the treatment I received in my place of work, and the toll on my health.

Sometimes self-care is handing in your resignation, and leaving a workplace that makes you ill. The challenges of being a Black nurse in the UK healthcare system existed long before COVID. But COVID made things so much worse.

I resigned in August 2021. This is what happened to lead to my resignation.

Work was always busy and short staffed. I had gone back to work in April 2020 after five months sick leave for anxiety and depression. I was prescribed medication to stop the overwhelming anxiety attacks I felt when I thought about work. COVID had hit. There was so much loss, I was speechless watching it on TV. At work, there was daily abuse from other colleagues, from parents. Shouting, hostility, security would be called — it was tough.

I had worked at my job since 2017 and wanted to be promoted. I spent a year working on getting promoted, setting up, and having meetings. To improve my skills, I secured a place on a leadership program. I took the Windrush Leadership Programme for Black Nurses by The Florence Nightingale Foundation. I was excited to get my certificate.

When I applied for promotion, I was told ‘no money for promotion, you’ll have to stay in the trainee post’. I was told: ‘wait’, ‘be patient’ or ‘no money’. I was told this again and again.

You can work twice as hard, have experience on paper and proven clinical expertise, but you simply won’t get through. I stopped trying so hard after being told the same thing again and again. I didn’t feel that they supported my career.

In the words of Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, Emeritus Professor of Nursing at University of West London: ‘it is not a glass ceiling for black nurses but a brick wall’.

As Black nurses we are on the front line in lower paid positions, and it seems impossible to break into higher paid positions. The data from NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard reflects that, and my experience of poor treatment. I am one example of those numbers.

The final straw was being bullied by two senior medics, on top of poor treatment by senior nurse management.

There is a common saying ‘people rarely leave bad jobs; they leave bad management’. For me that was true. I had too many bad managers.

The toll was just too much. I relapsed twice into crisis in the year I went back to work. It was as I was experiencing another one that it was time to say ‘enough’.

I went to my line manager and said: ‘I am not valued, I am not appreciated’. I said it with tears streaming down my face. I felt the biggest sense of relief afterwards.

On Friday 13th August 2021, I shared that I was leaving with my nurse twitter community. I want to live, breathe, smile, laugh, dance in this life. I hadn’t done that, I had forgotten how to do that, for so long.

I share my personal story because silence didn’t work. Healthcare organisations benefit from you being scared. They use that fear to silence and shame. They use silencing to separate and isolate us. This treatment continues, and it’s causing trauma. This must be stopped.

Malcolm X once said: ‘we are not outnumbered, we are out organized’. There is power in numbers, in our stories, in breaking our silence.

Since speaking up, others have found courage to no longer accept less, to no longer accept poor treatment from healthcare organizations.

I didn’t stop loving nursing, I stopped being silent.

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Nurse Esther Akinpelu is a Registered Child Nurse who continues to work in the nursing profession she loves. The Black Frontline is gathering stories of UK Black nurses experiences during COVID as part of the largest oral history project of global Black nurses and doctors across the UK, the US and Ghana.

If you are a Black nurse in the UK, and would like to share your story, call 07542 441 851, email theblackfrontline@gmail.com. FB: The Black Frontline.

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THE BLACK FRONTLINE

We engage, explore, express healthcare specialists’ analysis, perspective, experiences at the intersection of health, race, equity, centering global Blackness.