Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teacher Education

Committee Member

D. Marty Raymond, III

Committee Member

Patricia Coleman-Burns

Committee Member

Valerie Polakow

Committee Member

Linda Williams


There is a demand in the United States for a representative body of registered nurses to meet the needs of an ever-growing, aging, and increasingly diverse population. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the aging and retirement of the majority White nursing workforce created a need for a diverse body of competent and culturally-sensitive nurses to care for the aging baby boomers, an increasingly diverse population, and to counter healthcare disparities. Lack of diversity in nursing has been compounded by the high attrition rate of minorities in nursing education programs, particularly African Americans, the largest minority group in nursing. This qualitative study explored the lived experiences of African-American women who have become registered nurses. Phenomenology was the primary qualitative research method used, with a focus on life histories. A purposive sample of 14 registered nurses participated in this study. The purpose of this study was to gather understanding of the participants’ lived worlds and experiences before, during, and after becoming registered nurses by examining how their childhood, K-12 education, nursing education program, and life and professional experiences influenced their journeys to become registered nurses. Participants were interviewed using open-ended, semi-structured interview methods. Critical race theory and Black feminist thought were the conceptual frameworks used to guide this study. Analysis was grounded in the impacts of the intersection of race, class, and gender and contextualized historically by the decade participants attended nursing school. Significant themes that emerged from the participants’ narratives were violence, living in poverty, overcoming educational obstacles, paying for nursing school, grit and tenacity, lack of diversity, and support/lack of support. Findings from this study provide insight into the effects of educational inequity, socioeconomic status, role responsibilities, and marginalization each woman encountered on her journey to become a registered nurse. Additionally, participant grit and tenacity were highlighted as each persevered to become a registered nurse while overcoming personal, social, and structural barriers. This study aimed to illuminate the oft-absent voice of African-American women in nursing and to contribute to the discussion of strategies, policies, and practices to increase the number of African-American registered nurses.

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