In this month’s profile, we feature Marshall H. Blue, Sr, DNP, MSN, RNC-NIC, CNL, PHN, who is the director of pediatrics at St Joseph’s Medical Center and Dignity Health organization in North Central California. With experience in neonatal care, Dr Blue is responsible for the leadership of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Acute Care Pediatric Unit, and the Neonatal Transport Team. Dr Blue practices care and compassion working in the neonatal field while simultaneously aiming to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Black community.
Q: What experience(s) helped determine your career path? Who were your mentors?
Dr Blue: Although I didn’t experience a defining moment in my life that drove me to become a nurse, my initial mentors, including my paternal aunt and school nurse, laid the foundation for my journey. Growing up, my aunt’s stories about overcoming challenges as a Black nurse in the 1930s and 40s when there were not many Black people being recognized in the nursing field inspired me. I always wanted to help people and my aunt supported me in this decision.
Spending time with my high school nurse and hearing stories about working with children further cemented my decision to enter the nursing field and ultimately to care for neonatal patients.
During college, my ex-wife and best friend played a pivotal role as a mentor. As a senior, she had already completed 3 years of coursework. She prepared me for what to expect while I was in nursing school and supported me along my academic journey.
Dr Blue: Working in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), I have observed the high maternal mortality rate in the Black community. Many Black mothers lack adequate support from health care providers. They are unable to receive equitable care and fall through the cracks of our health care system. This leads to an increased risk of complications experienced by Black mothers such as postpartum depression and hypertension, among other complications. Black women don’t have the same access to resources as their White counterparts. Our community needs health care professionals who look like the patients they serve; who have the understanding and background of what their patients are going through, as well as the daily challenges.
Q: Can you walk us through your breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in 2010?
Dr Blue: In 2010, I woke up one morning absolutely drenched in blood. Neither my partner nor myself could figure out where the blood was coming from. There was blood on my face, on the pillows, on the bedsheets. While feeling my body to see where this blood was coming from, I pressed on my right chest and realized I was hemorrhaging from my right nipple.
This led me to call my primary care doctor, who happens to be my good friend. He urged me to come into his office right away. While my doctor had an idea of what the issue could be, breast cancer was the furthest thing from my mind. As a neonatal nurse, it’s not a diagnosis I came across. Even though I’m a health care provider, in my mind breast cancer was “a female thing.”
My doctor conducted an exam, took tissue samples, and sent them off to the lab. He called the UCLA Revlon Breast Cancer Center and made me an appointment for the next morning. I had an ultrasound and a mammogram. After cannulating the nipple, the clinicians performed another ultrasound and found that there was a large cancer cell behind the nipple, just between the blood vessels and the milk duct. There was never a lump or any indication of cancer until the bleeding. They performed a biopsy and a week later I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer.
I had a mastectomy on my right side and I later made the decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy on the left side. This decision was a surprise to everyone, including my doctor, but I didn’t want to relive what I went through, especially because breast cancer was a part of my family’s history.
Q: How has your breast cancer diagnosis changed your outlook on life?
Dr Blue: My diagnosis totally changed my trajectory on how I was going to live my life. Living in the moment is important, but since I was cured, I was able to start planning ahead and I decided to go back to school. In 2015, I completed my Bachelor of Science in Nursing and then went on to graduate school.
Life is good. I think my diagnosis gave me a jumping-off point. I was able to tell my story, go back to school, and be the person I was meant to be. I surrounded myself with a strong support system, especially my life partner of over 17 years who supported me while I worked full time and completed my graduate degree.
Cancer was no longer part of my thought process.
Q: What advice would you give to a young person of color entering the field?
Dr Blue: Find someone you can connect with, even if they aren’t in your desired field. You’ll be able to have a real conversation with them about your current experiences and even about barriers you’re facing in terms of accessibility. Mentors will have tools you can utilize to navigate being a person of color in the workplace.
Connecting with just one person can lead to broader connections and a wealth of knowledge. Staying singular can lead a person to feel like they are not part of a broader community, you’ll feel like an island, and you won’t have the resources you need to get through.
Q: What do you know now that you wish you knew coming out of nursing school?
Dr Blue: I wish I knew to make connections. I had my family, but I didn’t have anyone outside my family circle to show me the ropes and navigate the health care workplace. If I had someone I could turn to, I probably would have gone back to school sooner, thus giving me more time to give back to my community.
This article originally appeared on Clinical Advisor