My name is Omarr, and I am a registered nurse. Wow, it feels good to finally be able to say that. As you can already tell, I am a newly minted nurse. I graduated with my A.A.S degree in May of 2017 from the Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences.
I am not a person who grew up with a life-long dream to be a nurse, nor did I ever envision myself as a healthcare professional. I always knew that I wanted to serve people, but I did not know the capacity in which I wanted to do it. I attended the University of Maryland and graduated with a B.A. in Criminology/Criminal Justice; and I did so with the goal of creating a career in law or law enforcement. But upon obtaining my degree I realized that I could not reconcile participating in a system that disproportionately impacts ethnic and social minorities in a negative way. I could not see myself working within a system that focuses on punishments and profits, while ignoring social determinants, rehabilitation and, the isms. I needed to do something different but at this point nursing was still the furthest thing from my mind.
With my new-found distain for our criminal justice system, I decided to immerse myself within those populations that have been disproportionately impacted by that very system. I did so with the intention of learning more about how I could prevent people in these populations from going through the revolving doors of prison. I began by volunteering in SE, Washington, DC public schools as an after-school aid. I then worked as a teaching assistant within the Washington, DC Public Charter School system. It was eye opening, and I learned a great deal from those experiences, but nothing was more transformative than my time at Boy’s Town of Washington, DC.
At Boy’s Town, I served as a behavioral health teacher to adolescents who have entered the juvenile justice system. My role included teaching social skills, performing home assessments, and coordinating with teachers, parents, and healthcare providers to best serve the children in the program. But while working at Boy’s Town I found myself constantly confronting various mental health variables that impacted the participants of the program as well as the communities in which they lived. I had no idea how large of a role mental health and illness played in the lives of these communities and how it negatively impacted their chances at self-fulfillment. And after many conversations with the participants of the program, I felt that underneath those tough exteriors, were symptoms of emotional trauma, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and PTSD—just to name a few. This, coupled that with the fact that it often took two months to get an appointment for an initial assessment by a psychiatrist because there are simply not enough providers that take adolescents and Medicaid, alarmed me to how vulnerable this population really is. And as it stands today, the largest provider of mental health services in America are our prison and jail systems. For me, there was just too much overlap between mental health, mental illness, and perceived criminality—and I couldn’t ignore it.
Fueled by my experiences at Boy’s Town, some extensive internet research and conversations with psychiatric nurses, I decided that I wanted to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner. My goal was, and still is, to provide culturally competent mental health care to the populations that need it the most. I took this goal into nursing school, and graduated in May of 2017, with honors and as Chapter President of our SNA. Currently, I work at Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center in their psychiatric emergency program, and I also do part-time work with Catholic Charities Outpatient Behavioral Health Clinics. Furthermore, I have a social media platform called, Mental Health For Us, where I use outlets such as YouTube and Facebook to create videos that educate and bring awareness to mental health and illness within minority populations. Right now, my focus is on getting the proper experience as a nurse and when the time is right, I will move forward towards obtaining my degree as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.
What I love most about nursing is the versatility regarding how one can impact healthcare. I am always amazed by the stories of nurses. When I hear how an individual got into nursing, or their current role as nurse, I am always taken back at how wide our reach is as a profession. We are everywhere, and we are doing everything! It is amazing!
Before I conclude, I must say NYC MIN has been a wonderful experience for me. I have met so many smart, thoughtful and driven people. Everyone is so supportive, and as a new nurse, I do not feel alone while navigating this profession. I hope that I can one day uplift another nurse the same way that this organization has uplifted me. Thank you for the support and thanks for allowing me to share my story.