How Two Seattle Children’s Nurses’ Personal and Professional Experiences Motivate Them to Tackle Inequity

Nurses Genevieve Aguilar (left) and Mari Moore (right) serve as facilitators for Seattle Children’s equity, diversity and inclusion training for nurses.

Seattle Children’s nurses Genevieve Aguilar and Mari Moore share their perspective on equity and inclusion in the workplace, why they’re engaged with Seattle Children’s journey toward anti-racism, and about their roles as facilitators for Seattle Children’s equity, diversity and inclusion training.

Seattle Children’s nurses Genevieve Aguilar, a Medical Unit team member, and Mari Moore, a unit based educator in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), have lived and witnessed firsthand the experiences of Seattle Children’s patients and workforce members who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).

Here, Aguilar and Moore share their perspectives on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the workplace, why they’re engaged with Seattle Children’s journey toward becoming an anti-racist organization, and about their roles as facilitators for Seattle Children’s EDI training for nurses.

Tell us about your background and how you became involved in equity-related work.

Aguilar: I’m Chicana; I was born and grew up in El Paso, Texas. El Paso is a majority-minority city where over 80% of residents are Latino. My grandma and great aunt lived there too, and they primarily spoke Spanish. I saw how they struggled during doctor appointments and while trying to manage their healthcare. Often their diagnosis, care plan or prescriptions weren’t fully explained to them, so I’ve always felt huge empathy for people who prefer a language other than English.

After college, I worked in community organizing, advocacy and policy work, but I found myself wanting to do something to help educate people and promote health equity in a more immediate way. I went back to school for nursing at Seattle University. While there, I participated in Seattle Children’s Diversity Senior Practicum program. The fact that Seattle Children’s offered this program indicated to me that diversity in the workplace was a priority, so I applied for a role at Children’s about three years ago and have been on the team since.

Moore: I grew up in the Midwest, in a school and neighborhood where I was one of only a handful of Black people. I was also a semi-professional ballet dancer and learned it was very difficult for a Black person to be successful in ballet, so I decided to go into nursing. I eventually joined Seattle Children’s in 2006 as a nurse in the NICU.

My journey engaging actively with equity work started because of Seattle Children’s involvement in the annual Seattle Pride Parade a few years ago. I was excited to work for an organization that celebrated diversity, where I could not only grow in my passion for caring for babies and families, but also fully lean into all of my identities as the assets they are.

After the parade, I joined Seattle Children’s Q Pod Inclusion Network (the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) network open to all Seattle Children’s employees) and took an EDI class. I met some amazing people in the class and felt inspired to keep having conversations related to race and equity.

Why were you interested in serving as facilitators for Seattle Children’s EDI training?

Aguilar: My work and interests are 100% influenced by the area where I grew up. I feel the current status quo in healthcare around how patients and families who prefer a language other than English are treated is not equitable. There are so many rapport and relationship building connection points that aren’t currently possible with these families without interpretation services. I want to help move the conversation forward about how to support them.

Unfortunately, I’ve also had co-workers leave because of microaggressions in the workplace, instances like repeatedly asking someone who is BIPOC, “Where are you really from?”

During EDI training, we practice how to identify microaggressions and how to interrupt them. Although there’s no one right answer for addressing microaggressions or stopping them from happening, I think it starts with building baseline knowledge, learning skills and hopefully starting to change attitudes collectively. If I can make a small dent in helping people understand that microaggressions happen every day and how to reduce them, that’s a win for me.

Moore: When I heard there was a need for facilitators to help further equity conversations with nurses, I knew I had to do it. I like to be a part of change and conversations that help move things forward. As someone who identifies as Black and queer, I find it liberating to talk to people about equity and diversity. I get excited about the possibilities that come with celebrating diversity. A diverse and curious workforce makes things better for our patients and families – and patients and families are what we are all here for.

Why do you think Seattle Children’s journey to becoming an anti-racist organization is critically important?

Aguilar: From my own experience and research, I’ve seen the impact supporting families who prefer a language other than English can make.

Last year, I was part of a Nursing Evidence-Based Practice fellowship program. This program provides clinical and leadership nurses an opportunity to selecting a practice question from their area and receive education and coaching on the evidence-based practice to address their question. I focused my review on barriers to translation and interpretive services for non-English speaking families. The data shows if translated materials aren’t provided, there’s a high readmission rate because patients and families won’t understand how to take medication or follow their care plan correctly. So, it’s really to our benefit to address health equity. And it’s just a good thing to do as human beings.

I also feel very strongly our workforce should match the demographics of the patients we serve – it makes such a difference in how we can care for a diverse patient population.

Moore: Without diversity in our workforce, the perspective of others who are different from ourselves isn’t readily available and it is difficult to enact improvements related to health equity.

As one example, a few of our amazing NICU nurses last year conducted an organization-wide survey asking nurses about their comfort level in performing hair care for patients with Black and Afro-textured hair. More than half the nurses who responded expressed being at least somewhat uncomfortable caring for that type of hair and a similar number said their level of comfort affected whether they would perform hair care for the patient.

I think it’s important to consider how this might correlate to other areas, like our central line associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI) rates for example, which are higher for our Black and African American patients. It’s incredibly important for each of us to reflect on how we provide equitable care and attention to all our patients – that is why starting and continuing to have these conversations is so valuable.

What is your approach when talking to people about race and equity?

Moore: I try to be intentional about creating safe spaces for people to feel comfortable to even have these conversations. That doesn’t just mean in the classes themselves, but in every connection I make with someone, such as when I talk to people in my unit or while going through my daily tasks. That’s part of my goal – to be able to have these conversations every day.

People have said to me, “I don’t think EDI training is relevant to me.” That sentiment is part of why we’re offering this training – we want to help people reframe their current understanding of race and equity, to have more of an understanding about some of the effects being a person of color truly has on everyday life. These impacts are felt not only by the BIPOC patients we care for, but our BIPOC workforce members, too.

It feels wonderful to be able to play a part in the EDI journey we are all undertaking together. There are so many conversations that can be spurred from increased awareness. Equity at Seattle Children’s will improve only if we continue to have conversations and ask tough questions.

What advice do you have for Seattle Children’s workforce members about how they can lean into anti-racism work?

Moore: I’d love for people to be willing to have conversations that make them uncomfortable. If you feel defensive, pause for a moment, take a deep breath and reflect on why you’re feeling this way. Lean into the uncomfortability of these conversations. Also, assume good intent, but be conscious of impact. Most people want things to be better and we can help make it better for our patients, families and team members by walking together on this journey.

Aguilar: We’re all in different places; we have to meet each other where we are and build one another up. I think an anti-racism journey starts with asking questions like, “What’s the historical perspective of racism in Seattle and throughout the country?” and building a skillset, and then putting action into practice.

Learn more about Seattle Children’s Commitment to Anti-Racism.