Darrell Desmond

For the bigger picture

As one of the first Black male nurse managers at UC Davis Health, Darrell talks about how pushes from his coworkers encouraged him to step into an unknown role and create space for others to do the same.

portrait of Darrell Desmond, nurse at UC Davis Health


I remember it like it was yesterday, and I really thought she was drinking that day. I knew that I had leadership skills, but I did not see me ever leaving oncology. I did not see myself seeing the whole big picture. You opened my eyes that day at my potential. And you really did. And it was probably the first time that I actually looked past my life as an oncology nurse. And I had to really go home and think about what I wanted to do, how impactful it could be, and what it meant to others. Because on a personal level, I was fine. I was really very content there. I was very passionate about oncology. I had a very good team there, and I felt like I was really making a difference there. But after talking to you, I realized that I could make a bigger difference and that people really needed to see it happen.

It wasn't just for myself. It was for the bigger picture. I realized that I was going to, potentially, be the first African-American male manager in the history of this organization, and that spoke volumes. And I realized that that could potentially lead to more of the things that really meant something to me. And that was the diversity, and inclusion, and opening doors, and being that person that really cared about others and was selfless. And I realized that it wasn't going to challenge me. I knew that, but I wasn't afraid of the work, and the work is what I look forward to. And I just wanted to make sure that I brought my genuine self with me. That was important to me. I can remember when I went to work on oncology. The one question that I remember out of all those questions they asked you for an interview was, why here?

She said, "Why would you want to work here?" And I said, "I want to work somewhere where I can be me, and grow, and know that I can fail forward. And I don't have to walk on eggshells, and I don't have to be quieter because I'm not a quiet person." And you know, these things that I truly am, it's all me, and I wanted to make sure that was understood and accepted right out the gate. And she offered that to me, my first boss. And it allowed me to grow and blossom, and really grow into things. And it was the same situation when it came to the choice to leave when we talked. And I prayed on it, and I realized that I had the opportunity to make a bigger impact on this organization, which I love UC Davis. We got to be very clear about this.

I would not work anywhere else. This is my home. And I love this place. And I would do anything to elevate UC Davis and to put our best foot forward. I believe, now, I'm part of their best foot. You know what I mean? So it all came together. It was a very interesting journey. It challenged me along the way, but I've grown. I'm much better today. So this is my fourth year. So it was an interesting transition. This is my fourth year. Did I think that I would have grown into the person I am today in four years time? No way. I believe that I've been given opportunities. I am so indebted to the leadership team that's mentored me this far. My boss, Joleen, is amazing. She allows me to blossom. She allows me to fail forward. She allows me to grow. She has helped me more with language than anybody in my 57 years because I'm kind of old. I'm 57. It's amazing some of the growth I've done. I had to ask myself this morning because I knew you all was coming.

What do I like most about my life right now, as a nurse manager? And I would say the respect and trust that my direct reports have. It's always good to have your peers respect. But the people that you have to manage, have to discipline, have to correct, have to guide, have to coach, when they love you anyway, when you are bringing out the best of them, when you can make them see that we're not punitive where we are, we're failing forward, we're growing together. When I'm successful with that, and they thrive, my heart's warm. I have achieved everything that I want to achieve in my life and in nursing. Now, it's about how can I help others grow to that? How can I help others self-actualize? And that's where my legacy lies, and that's where my pleasure lies, and that's where my growth lies, and that's how come I come back for more because now, I can see how it is important for someone to see someone else do it. To mentor it. To support it.