Dr. Gina S. Brown has been a nurse for more than 25 years. She currently serves as the Dean of the College of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences at Howard University, the premier HBCU located in Washington, D.C. Throughout her career, she has realized just how essential nurses are within the medical field. Dr. Brown believes that to enhance the healthcare system’s future, we must represent the underrepresented. 

Thank you so much for your time! I know you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what early experiences brought you to choosing a career in the medical profession?

As a young African-American, I grew up poor. I had a dream of going to medical school. The only way I could afford medical school was to become a nurse and earn the tuition money. I went to nursing school and loved it! I decided to continue to pursue that as a passion and I’m so happy I did. With the various issues that surround healthcare disparities, socioeconomic injustices and other stressors of life that affect one’s health, nursing is more important than ever in the global history of the world. Nurses address not just physical health, but mental and emotional healthcare as well. Additionally, nurses are at the forefront of changing healthcare and policy at every level. More people see nurses for their healthcare needs than any other practioner. Nurses plan and provide medical care, in addition to ensuring that the needs of those who are ill are met. I would dare to say unequivocally that nurses are the most important person within the healthcare system.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you in your career as a nurse?

We had a patient in the ICU that had swallowed the small part of a toy when he was 5 years old. It was a very tiny object, but as he got older, it started to cause other types of medical problems. The doctors decided that before he turned 18 that they should do an elective surgery to remove the toy so that It wouldn’t continue to cause him problems. They went in to do what seemed like a simple removal, but when he returned to the ICU, he ran into a number of complications that were not normal. Subsequently he died, and it did not go well for anyone, including of the family or the nursing staff; everyone was devastated. While it’s been over 25 years since that incident took place, I have never forgotten it or the devastation that it caused. It continues to remind me that life is fragile and that we should handle it with care.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting out on your career? What lesson did you learn from that?

I had a patient in the ICU where I worked who was a drug addict. He wanted to eat, but because of his condition, he wasn’t allowed to. He asked me if I would give him an orange just to suck on, and he promised he would not eat it. As a young, naive nurse who loved her patients, I trusted that he would indeed only suck the orange and give it back to me as we had arranged. However, he ate the entire orange behind my back and I had to go to my head nurse to tell her what happened. Thankfully, the patient had a colostomy bag in place where the orange “landed” about an hour later. My head nurse was quick-thinking and helped me resolve the problem because I was honest with her about what I had done. I can look back now and laugh about how this patient tricked me into believing him when I should have followed doctors’ orders.

While we resolved the problem, it was an experience that taught me that there are some rules that cannot be broken. Empathy for our patients is so important, but we can’t let it cloud our judgment.

To #DareToCare means to survive and thrive in today’s medical world. How do you take care of yourself? What’s the routine you must do to thrive every day?

Taking care of myself is a priority. It’s the only way to preserve my mental and physical health. I work out with a trainer consistently at a gym at least two days per week. I also run half marathons and have run full marathons. The practice and training needed for these types of events will make anyone dare to care about what they eat, what they drink, how much rest and sleep they acquire. Your body must be in optimal condition in order to survive that type of grueling beating.

I write a series of letters to my God-daughter in my latest book. In that same vein, what are 5 things you would tell your younger self? 

1. You can do anything you set your mind to as long as you practice and put in the time and energy to make it happen.

2.  Believe only half of what people say about you.

3.  Do not make permanent decisions based on temporary circumstances.

4.  Always put God first. Although it’s number four on this list, it is number one in my life.

5. Family is everything.

How can medical professionals reclaim heart-based healing amid pandemic, political, and other pressures?

It’s important to take good care of yourself. To do that have a positive attitude and repeat the five pieces of advice I outlined above.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your work as a healthcare professional? Can you explain? 

The Bible. It’s the word of God. It keeps me grounded and focused. It also teaches me how to treat others.

Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence in the healthcare community. If you could inspire other doctors and nurses to bring change to affect the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Said another way, what difference do you see needs to be made for our collective future?

We need to treat others the way we want to be treated. We need to ensure that we take care of those who feel downtrodden, as well as those who are socially and economically underrepresented and who have dire healthcare needs. We must take care of the medically indigent. This is how we protect our future.

How can people connect with you?

[email protected] or follow me on Instagram at spybrown0404.