Like many parts of American society, the medical space is one that can be especially difficult to navigate as a black woman. Stigma and stereotypes often lead to medical mistreatment and not having concerns listened to. As a nurse herself, Naseema McElroy saw this treatment every day, and it worried her.
“Knowing the rates of black maternal morbidity and mortality, I have a vested interest in protecting black mothers,” Naseema tells Love What Matters. “This is me. I treat all my patients with the utmost care and respect and wouldn’t expect anything less.”
In her time working in a maternal ward, Naseema noticed mistreatment in unnecessary medical procedures, tests, and exams being performed without proper consent, and time-sensitive procedures delayed. Knowing this was unacceptable, Naseema spoke up to her supervisors. But instead of being listened to, Naseema was fired.
“I sued because I knew that my firing was unjustifiable and that my concerns against the department had yet to be addressed,” Naseema said. “I knew that nothing would change unless I took a stance and I wanted to use this as a way for patients and my coworkers to have precedence to address future issues.”
While the legal process was eventually settled, her journey from being fired to suing was draining for Naseema. She believes that the other side was hoping she would give up. Naseema’s belief in her advocacy was stronger, however, and she now continues to advocate for the success of other black women.
Much of her advocacy now focuses on how to achieve financial freedom, as she believes this is the best way to open your life and the possibilities you have for change.
“My life hasn’t changed much because of the lawsuit. I think that because of intentional life changes prior to being fired, I was in a position to file suit,” Naseema tells Love What Matters. “Because I had been on a path to financial independence and paid off just under a million dollars in debt the year before, I wasn’t worried about losing my job. That’s why I advocate all nurses pursue financial freedom so that they can show up fully in their role as a patient advocate and not have the fear of a job loss for speaking up or doing the right thing.”
On social media, Naseema offers advice and shares her story, hoping that other black women will be able to speak up and create change. In the comments, other black women and nurses share their stories, finding a community of support and camaraderie.
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“I think the fact that my posts around the issues of black mistreatment in the medical system garnered so much attention speaks to how far we still have to go,” Naseema says. “So many stories of mistreatment or being terminated for speaking up permeate the comments. We still have so far to go and my small victory is just a meager drop in the bucket.”
She urges not only nurses, but patients to speak up for themselves and know their rights.
“Patients need to choose doctors and institutions that truly have their best interest at heart. They need to know to trust their gut as they are going to be the first indicators that something is wrong,” she tells Love What Matters. “Don’t be afraid to speak up. Go up the chain of command. Ask for a second option and don’t delay seeking legal counsel.”
While one person will not be able to change the entire industry, Naseema’s victory and advocacy shows the ripple effect that just one action can have. She urges others to follow suit, to ensure that one day black women will have equal rights and access in the medical industry.
“Never be afraid to speak up when you know things aren’t right,” she says. “Again, I do stress that financial freedom puts you in a better position to advocate because you are then working because you want to, not because you have to.”
This article was written exclusively for Love What Matters by Anna Steingruber. You can follow Naseema McElroy of Oakland, California on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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