A Black Queer Nurse’s Journey into the Inhumanity of the U.S. Healthcare System

Issue 277

Author Britney Daniels is a keen observer, and her description of the medical field is riveting.

Eleanor J. Bader Mar 1, 2023

In her Prologue to Journal of a Black Queer Nurse, Britney Daniels tells readers that the book is “the story of a Black, masculine-presenting, tattooed lesbian and her head-first crusade into the nursing world, the COVID-19 pandemic, and oppression.”

And, of course, it is. But it is also a personal tale of overcoming poverty and confronting racism while simultaneously naming the many flaws in the U.S. health-care system. Daniels is a keen observer, and her description of the ways patients fall through cracks created by classism, homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, and xenophobia is riveting. What’s more, her outrage is palpable, strengthened by examples of the condescension and disregard both patients and staff of color routinely experience. 

This makes Journal both an indictment of the medical-industrial complex and a deep dive into the many manifestations of medical racism. But in addition, Daniels’ makes clear that she is poking a finger into the eyes of those who doubted her intellectual mettle and competence as she came of age. It’s a tale of prideful ascension, part personal chronicle and part political treatise.

The account is a stunning example of an almost unimaginable lack of compassion on the part of the people Daniels worked with.

Early in the memoir Daniels confesses that she did not always want to be a medical worker. Instead, she writes that she began her work life as a 19-year-old firefighter. She later trained to become an Emergency Medical Technician, a course of study that primed her to enroll in Illinois’ Waubonsee Community College where she studied to become a registered nurse. 

“I wanted to take care of all types of patient populations,” she writes. “I wanted to care for older and younger patients; I wanted experience with every type of disease and help heal people from all walks of life.”

These goals pushed Daniels toward emergency medicine and, for a time, she plied her trade as a travel nurse, taking three-month-long positions in different parts of the United States. In virtually every place she was assigned, she saw blatant malpractice and disregard for patient well-being. Furthermore, Journal bears witness to homeless individuals and elders whose complaints were cavalierly ignored. Twice, Daniels writes, she gave patients the extra pants and tee-shirts she kept in her car so they would not be discharged without adequate clothing. The account is a stunning example of an almost unimaginable lack of compassion on the part of the people she worked with.

She, herself, was a frequent target of derision and nastiness, and the book is a testament to the overt racism that she experienced from coworkers and patients, offenses that she says were consistently reported to hospital administrators; to her knowledge, none of her complaints resulted in an offender being reprimanded or rebuked.  

That said, conventional wisdom tells us that living well is the best revenge, and that’s where Daniels is soaring. She is now pursuing a Doctorate of Nursing Practice and hopes to continue her work as an advocate for change. “I want us to work collectively to dismantle a healthcare system rooted in hate, segregation, and oppression,” she writes in the book’s final chapter.

“I want you to walk through this house with me and tear down the walls, not paint them. I want to change the way people see Black and Brown people — especially Black and Brown healthcare workers.”

They’re admittedly tall orders, but Daniels understands that creating an empathetic medical model is not only possible, it’s imperative. After all, she concludes, “empathy saves lives.”  

Journal of a Black Queer Nurse
By Britney Daniels
Common Notions; 192 pages
May 9, 2023; Now available for pre-order

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