BUFFALO, N..Y (WKBW) — Dr. Catherine Collins, a former nurse practitioner who served in the Western New York community for more than 40 years, said throughout her career it has been difficult to find another nurse who looked like her.
“There’s always been a deficit in terms of African American people in the health care system,” Collins said.
Collins joined the health field on a whim.
“I accidentally stumbled upon a nurses aid job in high school.”
And her curiosity to learn more about the health care system led her to the career she has today.
“Thank God we have libraries and I like to read,” Collins said.
But many people of color don’t just accidentally stumbled across a career in health care and Collins believe that’s due to a lack of exposure.
“You can’t be me if you can’t see me," she said.
Collins says it wasn’t until high school when she saw her first black science teacher.
"I was shocked," she said.
But it was his presence that inspired Collins to keep moving forward in her career.
“It made me want to become something," she said.
Collins believes more people of color would enter the health field if schools exposed them to it.
“That’s why I'm so happy to be at State Ed so we can really push down the science curriculum, not only at high schools, but at third graders and fourth graders. So we can let them know what the health field is all about and those positions out there,” she said.
But she also said it up to parents to foster their children's careers at a young age.
“You have to introduce them. Don’t leave it on the educational system. You help to direct your child," she said. "Give them the information.”
While the number of black health care workers in the area have risen, Collins says there is still more work to be done. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2019, there were more than 18.6 million people working in the health care industry. Only 16% of those workers were black.
“So I’m hoping that we’re going to change that and put some money into it,” Collins said.