“If You Win, We All Win”

How Danielle McCamey, DNP, FCCP, creates a nurturing space for clinicians of color

By Madeleine Burry
June 14, 2024 | SPRING 2024 ISSUE

When Danielle McCamey, DNP, FCCP, began studying for her doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) at Georgetown University in 2015, she was the only Black woman in the program and the first person in her family to pursue a doctoral degree.

“I felt like I needed a community that had a shared lived experience,” Dr. McCamey said. She looked for an existing organization for people of color pursuing their DNP, but none existed.

And so, DNPs of Color—a nonprofit serving this community through networking, mentorship, and advocacy, with the goal of increasing diversity in doctoral studies, clinical practice, and nursing leadership—was born.

“What’s understood doesn’t need to be explained”

Dr. McCamey sought a community with awareness of “the pressures... that inherently come with being the only person of color in predominantly white spaces,” as well as the “urgency” to be successful.

“I felt like it was hard to articulate that to my faculty because they didn't understand the significance of how I clawed my way to get to an institution that offered doctoral studies and how much weight it carried in my community,” Dr. McCamey said.

“I felt like I needed a community that had a shared lived experience.”

DNPs of Color began as a Facebook group, growing to nearly 200 members within a month of its formation. The group “organically began to create this nurturing, psychologically safe space for us,” Dr. McCamey said. Group members discovered they had a lot in common. Many are the first in their families to work toward getting a doctorate. They may have deliberately opted to pursue a DNP, which is more accessible to communities of color, Dr. McCamey said, instead of a research-driven PhD.

Factors that faculty couldn’t intuitively or instinctively grasp are clear to group members. “I always say that what's understood doesn't need to be explained,” Dr. McCamey said.

For Dr. McCamey, and likely for many other members of DNPs of Color, there’s an awareness of the inequities that make achieving a doctoral degree challenging for people of color. There’s the quality of education, adverse childhood effects, racism, and dealing with both microaggressions and macroaggressions, Dr. McCamey pointed out. “There are so many different things that really impact our ability to learn and advance.”

Another factor is limited access to professional groups and networking spaces that lead to relationships with mentors and sponsors. DNPs of Color, which has matured far beyond its nascent moment as a Facebook group, provides that. In addition to hosting an annual conference, presentations, and webinars, providing opportunities for community connections, mentoring, and networking remain a key focus.

“You need a team of people to help cultivate your potential.”

DNPs of Color facilitates mentorship programs, including one that offers mentorship on the pathway to publication. Dr. McCamey believes deeply in mentorship, describing it as often “the key to your success.” She notes that she’s had at least eight mentors throughout various phases of her life. “You need a team of people to help cultivate your potential,” she said.

Members of DNPs of Color include people at different points in their journey: students, but also those who have graduated and are now in practice, and individuals with roles in academia. Members share their trade secrets and avoid gatekeeping information that is helpful to others’ success.

“People understand [that] if you win, we all win,” Dr. McCamey said.

Serving peers and patients

For people of color with DNPs and those pursuing a doctoral degree, there’s great value in connecting with peers. Sometimes, people ask Dr. McCamey whether a group geared toward historically disenfranchised people furthers division. Not so, she said. “I really would love people to understand that it's not a group to divide but to provide opportunities for individuals to be able to thrive in certain situations where they might be the only one,” Dr. McCamey said. “When you're the majority, you're not focused on the perspectives of those that are of the minority because you don't have that lived experience.”

There’s value to patients, too, when there’s greater diversity in the people seeing patients and those in leadership roles.

“It's not a group to divide but to provide opportunities for individuals to be able to thrive in certain situations where they might be the only one.”

Dr. McCamey spoke about the psychological safety of seeing someone you can identify with during a vulnerable moment. “There’s that unspoken connection,” she said. “And there’s that understanding of the community and the social drivers of health that impact the way they show up in our clinics and our hospitals... [as well as] the different layers that have brought them to needing the care,” Dr. McCamey said.

Giving back—and preserving boundaries

In addition to being the Founder, CEO, and President of DNPs of Color, Dr. McCamey is Assistant Dean of Strategic Partnerships at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, she serves on several boards and councils, and works per diem as a surgical critical care nurse practitioner at a hospital. So how does she find the time for all these roles and responsibilities? When does she relax, and how does she safeguard against burnout?

Early on, Dr. McCamey made a key realization: “This is the journey, and I’m only one person. And I have been given a gift that allows me to make waves and advance health equity,” she said.

But in order to show up for others, Dr. McCamey knows she needs to first show up for herself. Her strategy: Weekdays are devoted to her job at Johns Hopkins, while evenings are for nonprofit work. But weekends are work-free, devoted instead to nurturing herself, she said.

Years ago, when Dr. McCamey embarked on her doctoral studies, she felt alone as a first-generation doctoral student and the only Black woman in her program. Now she’s built a community. Her family—which she describes as pouring so much into her—is proud of what she’s accomplished in her career. “And they're extremely proud of all the things that I'm doing also to give back because that's critically important,” Dr. McCamey said. “Make sure you're taking others with you because the work has to continue long after you.”

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