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Highlights from 2023 BIPOC Perioperative Leaders to Know: Valuable Tips for Success 

August 10, 2023


Highlights from 2023 BIPOC Perioperative Leaders to Know: Valuable Tips for Success 

How to handle discrimination. How DEIB has evolved. Virtual advice for a BIPOC mentee that wants to pursue leadership. These are just a few bits of counseling our 2023 BIPOC Perioperative Leaders to Know shared in their interviews. Other highlights include tips for smoothing out surgical care coordination and how to capture that sometimes-elusive revenue boost. To watch full interviews, click here.  

Have you ever experienced or witnessed discrimination in the workplace? How was it handled? How did it impact you personally? 

Amber Megens, RN, BSN 

I had a chief of surgery upset that I did not call him back within a certain time. I paged him, but he wanted me to call him directly. He said, “I do not respect you. I do not believe you. What do you think you’re doing here? You’re not running this place.”  

At that moment, it tested how much I had grown as a person and leader. Even though he was being irate, I managed to stay calm and kept the primary focus on what he needed for his case. I said, “Okay, I see that you’re upset. So what are we doing with your case?” We got the case done, and I asked him, “Are you having an okay day, Doc?” And he said, “Oh my gosh, it’s this, it’s that. I’m so sorry about how I acted towards you earlier.”  

In those moments, being a person of color, they lose control, and sometimes that’s what they go to: how we look, our skin tone, the misconception that we aren’t educated or can’t handle these things. How dare we? If someone is being blatantly disrespectful and using the n-word, I’d report it. But in this case, I am a human being, he is a human being, and I brushed it off. We’re trying to handle patient care.  

Lissette Meszaros, LVN 

When I first joined the pre-op admissions team, I worked with a nurse assigned to a particular OR room. She brought the next patient in and then immediately went on break. She didn’t finish admitting her patient. Then she got back from her break and sat down at the front desk. She started reading the newspaper.  

Meanwhile, I finished admitting my patient and asked her if she needed help getting her patient ready. Her response was, “Oh, good. I was hoping somebody else would take it. Good luck with that one and her attitude. You know how they are.” She didn’t flinch. She was very comfortable with what she said and continued reading her paper.  

So I admitted the patient. She was a very nice patient, a middle-aged Black lady. She was really funny, cracked me up the whole time. We talked about everything. Obviously, I think this nurse had some preconceived bias. It made me standoffish towards her after that because I figured if you have that kind of feeling towards somebody after one minute of an encounter with someone you don’t even know, that says a lot about you. 

While working at NASA, I was at the cafeteria ordering my breakfast, and this man told me to clean a table off. I have on scrubs. The cafeteria people don’t even clean the tables off; you’re supposed to take care of your tray and put your trash in the garbage. There is a sign that says that. I remember telling him that he could clean off his own table.

What does DEI look like in the OR? 

Michelle Dempsey-Evans, MSN, BSN, RN, CNOR 

It has evolved for me over the years. I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t end with the color of our skin. We all come with different variables, from different walks of life, even within our community. We have different cultural beliefs. We all have different religions, sexual orientations, and even generational groupings. We all bring different perspectives to reflect and relate to our patients and provide the safe level of care they all deserve. A healthy and diverse culture can bring about a much higher level of patient care, especially in the surgical world. I feel that it is important we recognize that and embrace it. 

Martin Gitonga, MHA, BSN 

It starts with recognizing that we are different; our backgrounds, culture, age, and beliefs. 

I strongly believe in respect, civility, and equality. This creates value and a progressive, safe space where people can speak up. This is vital, especially when you’re talking about the surgical environment. You want people to speak up when something is not right. You want people to recognize their peers and advocate for their patients. I always like to think of it as a more holistic approach because when you talk about diversity and inclusion, it’s not just a snapshot in time; it encompasses everything that touches everyone. It’s an ongoing practice to encourage dialogue when people talk about the things they are uncomfortable with and the things they could do better. 

Lissette Meszaros, LVN 

It’s embracing other people’s backgrounds and cultures, considering their perspectives, and respecting other people’s opinions. We’ve had patients who only speak a certain language. Sometimes they’ll just nod their head and agree. They won’t answer the questions correctly or forget to tell the doctor something. When a nurse comes to get me to translate [in Spanish], you can just see that big sigh of relief. They smile, and they light up. They’ve been put at ease, and I think you can’t get that with the translator phone. 

A BIPOC nurse has been promoted to their first management position. What advice do you have for them to be successful as a first-time leader? 

Cenyellia Goodwill, MBA-HM, BSN, RN, CNOR, CSSM 

Plan and utilize good time management. Get a mentor so that you’re not reinventing the will. Practice effective, clear communication and always close the loop. Communication is going to be your best friend. Know your leadership style. Go to conferences and workshops, and get certified. Keep an open mind. 

Michelle Dempsey-Evans, MSN, BSN, RN, CNOR 

Be confident in the skills and the knowledge that you bring. Stay resilient. You may be questioned about your competencies, and you have to realize that you deserve to be in this room. Make yourself accessible to learn and grow professionally and as an individual. Build that trust with your team, peers, and senior leadership. Surround yourself with those who see the value of your performance. Learn to speak up about those things that are right. Mentors are so important. They don’t always have to look like us. There are some strong mentors out there who are willing to support you in your journey, your quality, and your development. 

Amber Megens, RN, BSN 

I would say that I’m so excited that you are on this journey. It is scary at times but give yourself a lot of grace. You’re here for a reason. Know that you’re also not superwoman, too. We all like to be because we’re all nurses, and we’re out here trying to save the world, and we’re going to do it. But take your time. Be aware that you will be tested. People will test you. They’ll come to you and might say, “I know more than you.” And you know what? That’s okay. You utilize that person for certain projects that will help them shine. 

Martin Gitonga, MHA, BSN 

It all starts with being authentic because people can always sniff out when you are not authentic. Another component is bringing awareness. We don’t speak out about the things that we consider either taboo or the things that are uncomfortable to talk about. Having that awareness and encouraging that dialogue go a long way. You need at least one or more mentors to see what you cannot see and give you a different perspective. 

Daphny Peneza, MSN, RN, CNOR, CSSM 

I’ve been in my role for five months and am still very much this person. When an opportunity knocks on your door, sometimes you wonder, “Should I leave the job I’m so comfortable with or move up now?” So my biggest tip for the new manager is to find your “why.” If your “why” aligns with the opportunity, go for it. Reach out to your network of mentors. But at the end of the day, it’s up to you, and the biggest factor is to pace yourself. It’s a constant assessment and reassessment. 

Lissette Meszaros, LVN 

Lead by example and stay present and consistent. Take the time to listen to your staff. 

Find out what somebody is good at and coach them up. If you see that people are drowning, go out there and help them. You don’t have to stay in your office. Remain positive and encouraging even if you’re having a bad day. Don’t let the staff see that. Sometimes, especially minorities, we tend to get looked at under a microscope most of the time. Everyone is watching. Do your best but be aware of that.