Work That Matters

Fighting Sickle Cell Disease with Cultural Awareness, Humility and Clinical Competency


This year, I’m celebrating my 30th anniversary as an Advanced Practice Nurse in Hematology at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. I actually started three years earlier as a staff nurse. I still recall the first patient who taught me that I was drawn to help children and young adults with sickle cell disease. The inherited blood disorder can affect any ethnicity but is more common in African Americans, occurring in about 1 in 365 Black or African American people. This young woman was from Belize, and in a pain crisis. I tried several ways to control it. I thought I had done a good job, then she said, “What you do here is so different than in my home country.” At that moment, I knew I wanted to learn all I could about how sickle cell is treated in different cultures, so I could help my patients cope and give them the best possible care.

In April, I’m coming full circle, giving a presentation on “Health Care Disparities and Sickle Cell Disease,” alongside my longtime colleague, Trish Peterson, MSN, RN, CPNP, at a virtual conference of the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners—California Chapters. In my job, I get to advocate for patients and families, work with the community, affect policy and develop programs. I love it—it’s very rewarding. Our Sickle Cell Initiative team, comprised of nurse practitioners, social workers, a physician and hospital administrators, is now starting a Sickle Cell Nurse Champions program to foster more leaders on inpatient units, with an emphasis on cultural awareness, humility and clinical competency. There are so many professional growth opportunities here, and we have such an amazing team; between these two assets and our wonderful patients, it is no surprise that team members would want to stay here 30 years or more like I have.

—  Debbie Harris, MN, RN, CPNP, Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute

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