They’re there by our side when we are at our most vulnerable. They care for their patients, often for long hours at a time, using their professional knowledge to wrap up wounds that we can see, but also soothing the fear and pain we might be experiencing on the inside. Who are these everyday heroes? Nurses.
Meet Dr. Sara Wiggins, president of the Minnesota Black Nurses Association. Not only is she president of MNBNA, but Wiggins is also a nurse at M Health Fairview Bethesda, and head of patient care staff. In addition, she serves as faculty chair and advisor at Metro State University in the Doctoral of Nursing program. And yes, her resume is lengthy, and many letters follow her name, (DNP, BSN, RN, and PHN) but she really just wants to do her job as a nurse. Especially now when health and healthcare have become such a big concern.
Wiggins has seen her share of Covid patients in the past two years. She has watched this pandemic progress firsthand, and while this has been a difficult few years, and has seen many patients struggle, she believes COVID-19 will soon become like the modern-day flu virus; people will get their shots, and the virus will continue to mutate into slightly different forms of a virus, and the vaccine will change every year.
Through this pandemic, what has continued to motivate Wiggins is the satisfaction of knowing when you provide good patient care, and the patients recognize it. “When I was a medical assistant, a patient brought a gift to me during the holiday. One staff member asked me, ‘why do you always get gifts?’ knowing that someone appreciated me and knew I was doing an excellent job, it made me who I am today.”
As a little girl, Wiggins recalls watching television, seeing a Black nurse, and thinking, someday I could do that. When she started out as a medical assistant in women’s health in Duluth, the clinic was physician-owned. A lot of her patients were staff from the hospital. Many of the patients she worked with commented on how nice she was. One, in particular, said, ’ Sara, oh my god, you should become a nurse.’ After a while, I realized, I can do this,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins went on to get her Certified Nursing Assistant while her three kids were little. She says she always had a good support system; her sister was always there for her. She helped Wiggins with childcare while Wiggins worked and went to school, often studying once her kids were asleep. Wiggins admits, “My kids have been on this journey with me.”
She continued her studies and received her Licensed Nurse Practitioner degree, her two-year Registered Nurse Degree, her bachelor’s, and then her doctorate all while working in the healthcare industry. Wiggins says working as a temporary nurse allowed her the flexibility to go to school while raising her children.
Giving back is a highlight of her career, and is mostly why she is an adjunct professor at Metropolitan State University. She says “we don’t have enough nurses. There are still not enough nurses of color, Black nurses. We need to have more diversity in the nursing field, and in healthcare in general.” If she can be a mentor to someone in college, that is what makes her feel good.
Her advice to young women is, “if you want to be a nurse if that is what you want to do, do it! Find a mentor, research nurses who can help you. Be fearless because nursing is so huge. A lot of times people shy away from nursing because they do not like blood. There are so many options now, nursing has expanded way beyond clinical work; find your support system.”