Nurse Spotlight: Paulette Maxie, MHA, RN, BSN
In honor of Black History Month, we’ve been celebrating the achievements and impact of Black nurses throughout the past and present. Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) and Child First are privileged to benefit from the leadership, vision and tenacity of so many Black clinicians and nurses. Today, we’re lucky to have one of our very own nursing leaders – Paulette Maxie, MHA, RN, BSN – share her story and insights on the blog.
Paulette first joined NFP in 2015 as a Nurse Supervisor and Administrator in Indiana. She has since joined the National Service Office as a Nurse Consultant and currently supports our partners in Ohio, Kansas and Illinois. Paulette was generous enough to share with us her nursing journey and her reflections on diversity and equity, in healthcare and beyond. Her accomplishments, her leadership, and her commitment to equity are an inspiration to us all.
What inspired you to choose nursing as a career path?
I was raised with the spirit of service, so I always knew that I’d do something to help others. My oldest sister was a nurse and took me to shadow a Labor and Delivery shift with her one night. There was such a team spirit and a camaraderie, and everyone treated each other as a vital part of the team. That experience and the feeling that I got that night confirmed for me that I wanted to be a nurse.
From nursing school forward, I found that there were so many inequities for all BIPOC in treatment by providers at all levels. Patients were not getting the same level of care and were dying unnecessarily simply based on what they looked like. That was unacceptable to me, so I started trying to figure out, what can I do to change this and make a difference?
I enrolled in every class on Black history that was available. After graduation, I became active in the Black Nurses Association chapter in my hometown. I also took courses at the local university on equity and diversity and sought out conferences and workshops. I totally submerged myself into anything I could find that was related to equity – to working towards a place where people were treated equally regardless of who they were.
What drove you to go into public health and eventually to Nurse-Family Partnership?
I followed in my sister’s footsteps into Labor and Delivery and have focused much of my career on maternal child health. While caring for young ladies having babies, my heart was heavy because so many had no one to guide and give them direction. I knew I could have an even bigger impact if I could just figure out how to help them rise from their difficult circumstances and see how to be good parents, and how to address the complex challenges they were facing. I realized that working in the hospital, only seeing patients for a couple of days, wasn’t giving the opportunity to do that. So I moved to outpatient and clinic settings, but kept coming back to the feeling that something was missing.
I also noticed that so many patients were labeled as “non-compliant”. But it wasn’t that they didn’t want to do the right thing – they had never been taught. I decided to get into health education – from prepared childbirth classes to breastfeeding education to CPR classes in the community. I went into churches – mostly African American Black churches – and talked about high blood pressure and diabetes and kidney disease. I was trying to teach the public, particularly BIPOC communities, as much as I could.
I was managing a nursing education department at a large academic hospital when a friend, knowing my passion for education and maternal child health, shared a position she’d seen posted for Nurse-Family Partnership. As I looked more into it, I was amazed – finally somebody got it! NFP combined the compassion of nursing, with support and patient education– along with the focus on trust and relationship building. I knew this was the place I could make the impact I was seeking.
Looking back on your career, what would you say you’re most proud of?
I was in Nursing school in the late 1970’s, and not unlike today, there was a lot going on with racial issues– we were still on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement. The university I attended accepted 80 students into its Nursing program every year, and the year I started, there were 18 of us who were African-American/Black. Everyone else was white. Laws required that they let a certain number of minority students into the program, but the university didn’t feel they had to let us graduate.
Going to a school that was mostly white at that time, I expected mistreatment to come from fellow students – but it didn’t. It came from the professors, who systematically traumatized each and every Black student with subtle (and not so subtle) racial mistreatment, with the intent of removing us from the program. I experienced this harassment and mistreatment personally. I had professors call me at home, pushing me to drop their class, telling me they would not let me pass. I received lower grades than my white classmates for equal work. I was told over and over by professors to quit nursing. This systemic bias came from the top down, so who could I report it to? By the time we graduated, out of the 18 who started, I was the only one left. Making it to graduation proved to me that I could persevere through adversity.
But I frequently look back and wonder, how much did this impact my physical health? My mental health and emotional wellbeing? These are the types of inequities that our Black patients and clients suffer through every day. When we talk about health disparities, this is how it often starts – traumatic life experiences leading to health issues that continue throughout a lifetime.
From your perspective why is it important to improve diversity among our nursing workforce, and how can organizations do more to support a diverse nursing workforce?
We all know that every culture is different – and I mean culture, not race. Race is a category assigned to us based on how we look. But culture defines the norms, perceptions, beliefs, the social behaviors for people in a certain group.
Every culture has certain perceptions of healthcare – some based on historical perspective, and some based on their own lived experiences. You can’t always know and understand a person’s experiences and culture, unless you also come from that culture. For us to have an impact on health disparities, to encourage and support people to become better advocates for their own health – first we have to teach them. Sometimes people don’t learn from those who don’t look like them. So we have to strive towards diversity, towards having providers who patients feel like they can relate to and trust. We have to meet people where they are. Otherwise, it won’t have an impact.
At every level of healthcare, from the patient room to the Board room, we should seek to have people who are diverse and who can speak to the lived experiences, the differences and diversity of all people – and who won’t just focus on the “average patient” population. Until we do that, we won’t be able to change people’s lives.
We can’t stop until every person – no matter who they are – has the access and ability to the same quality of life.