Science always came easily to Alisha Ovide and she was always interested in health and studying the human body.
She grew up watching her mother, Alexis Morgan, who worked as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in the labor and delivery unit at Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton, Mass.
Ovide excelled in subjects like anatomy and physiology and psychology. But her aspirations toward healthcare were solidified when she attended a special advanced medical program at Harvard University as a high school student.
“I was able to do certain things that my high school didn’t have the funds to provide for us in our science courses like being able to touch and feel preserved human organs,” she said.
However, Morgan realized her daughter had a natural talent for taking care of people much earlier than high school. She’d often brought Ovide to work with her. She stood out among her siblings as the one who would pursue a career in nursing.
“She’s a little mini-me,” Morgan, 50, said.
And when Ovide’s grandmother got sick and was admitted into the hospital, she wanted to help however she could—from bringing her food daily to helping her take a bath.
“Starting with grandma, I could tell that she was going to be a great nurse,” Morgan, a Haitian native, said.
Growing up, Ovide never doubted her potential to work in the medical field. She was used to seeing Black nurses and had a doctor of color who always made her feel seen.
So, when her senior year at a majority Black high school came to an end, she took her favorite teacher’s advice and applied to an HBCU.
Although Ovide was surrounded by Black representation in healthcare, she noticed the disparities she witnessed between patients of color and their White counterparts.
She was angered to learn that the Black infant mortality rate was three times that of white babies when looked after by White doctors or that Black women were more likely to die from complications surrounding childbirth.
“If you’re a doctor, you’re supposed to take care of us,” she said.
Medicine has a long history of neglecting Black lives.
The phrase “Black Lives Matter” has its origins in the period since July, 2013 when George Zimmerman, a White man, was acquitted of second-degree murder and related charges following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a Black teen, in Sanford, Fla., 17 months earlier.
But the mantra has gained new relevance this year after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police.
Despite the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, thousands have taken to the streets to protest police brutality all over the country and the world and Black medical workers sit at the intersection of race and medicine.
Ovide has served as a mentor for high school students as a part of university programs to encourage diversity in nursing, according to Morgan State nursing program director Maija Anderson.
In Anderson’s experience, one of the biggest factors that discourages Black youth from pursuing healthcare professions is that they don’t get involved early enough.
“They haven’t been socialized to the discipline of healthcare early on, so they have preconceived notions of how it is,” Anderson said. “You have to get them to identify, maybe freshman year of high school, that this is what they want to do.”
According to Anderson, nursing courses at Morgan start after two years of general education requirements.
Ovide is starting her first year in Morgan State’s nursing program. The program received accreditation in 2017 and has recently accepted its largest cohort of students (51 students) in the past five years.
Junior nursing students start the semester with skill labs in the Old Jenkins Behavioral Science building where they work with mannequins and practice bedside care. The goal is to move to clinicals -- supervised sessions where students are able to work at a healthcare facility with real patients, before the end of the semester.
When Morgan initially enrolled in a New York nursing school, she only stayed for one year. After her mother’s death, she decided to return to nursing and became a CNA. She was a single mother and didn’t want the same fate for her children.
In her more than 26 years of nursing experience, Morgan’s noticed a difference in the way that Black nurses and White nurses are treated in the hospital.
Morgan said it isn’t uncommon to see a White doctor completely ignore a Black nurse and instead, address a White nurse directly even though they’re both in the same room and have the same credentials.
For that reason, she stresses the importance of education on her kids.
“I always tell my kids, ‘you guys are African American, you got to finish school, you don’t want to suffer like I did,’” Morgan said.
In an earlier version of this story The Spokesman reported that the nursing program recently received accreditation. Morgan State’s undergraduate nursing program has been accredited since 2017.
Ovide’s story is a part of “Black Health Matters,” a year-long reporting program through The Poynter Institute’s College Media Project. The project’s objective: to tell health related stories through the lens of Black college students, while examining possible solutions.