Being a nurse was always in Carter Todd’s blood. As a pediatric intensive care unit nurse at UC Davis Medical Center, he’s one of roughly 280,000 black registered nurses in the country. That’s a number he hopes to grow.

“Early in my career in the hospital, I realized there weren’t enough African American men who were nurses,” said Todd, who received a master’s degree in leadership in June from the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis. “I want to change that, because nursing is a wonderful option for us.”

Workforce doesn’t reflect population

In a 2016 survey from the California Board of Registered Nursing, black or African American nurses represented only 4.3% of California’s active nurses, as compared to 8% of African Americans in California. The figure is even less when looking at black males.

“We need people who represent the communities we serve,” says Piri Ackerman-Barger, Ph.D., R.N., an assistant clinical professor and Todd’s thesis adviser. “That can inform what is taught in health professions schools, what is researched, policy development and resource allocations. We really do need more African American men in nursing.”

Cultural hub promotes health discussions

The School of Nursing’s master’s degree in leadership prepares graduates for health care leadership roles in a variety of organizations, and as nurse faculty at the community-college level.

For his thesis project, Todd interviewed patrons at Sacramento barbershops that cater to black men in order to understand their perceptions about the nursing profession. Research shows that barbershops serve as cultural hubs of influence in the community and can be places of health care intervention.

In her study, “Caring, curing, and the community: Black masculinity in a feminized profession,” sociologist Adia Harvey Wingfield found that the black men she interviewed were motivated to enter the profession because they believed this field offered opportunities to be of service to black communities. Todd’s research participants also showed belief in nursing as a viable career path.

“The ah-ha moment for me was just how engaged the community was,” Todd said. “I hope that moving forward, we’re able to implement different projects in churches, barbershops and schools to try to increase the amount of African American men in the profession. Until nurses advocate for the community, things won’t change.”

PICU nurse Carter Todd and a pediatric patient

National award

Todd continues that advocacy every day, caring for patients at UC Davis Health and serving as president of the Capital City Black Nurses Association. Last summer, he and fellow School of Nursing student Sherena Edinboro also received 45 and Under Awards for leadership, excellence and innovation from the National Black Nurses Association.

“Coming from a background like mine gives legitimacy to the younger African American men that I mentor that being able to refocus energy into serving others will ultimately take you wherever you want to go,” Carter said. “The award does a lot to signify how critical the role of nurse is in not just the clinical setting, but also within the communities with which we serve.”