Top Nurses 2020: Aniqueka Scott dove in as a new nurse

Aniqueka Scott of UW Health received the practice award.
Aniqueka Scott
Photo by Paulius Musteikis
Aniqueka Scott

Aniqueka Scott never thought she’d be a nurse, let alone a Top Nurse. Or the only Black nurse on her unit, in a state where only 2% of registered nurses are Black, according to the Wisconsin Center for Nursing’s 2018 report. She certainly never predicted that a pandemic would strike and she’d find herself serving University Hospital’s most acute COVID-19 patients — all in her first year on the job.

“I can’t imagine,” says Jessi Kendall, oncology, hematology and palliative care RN and co-chair of UW Health’s Employee Resource Group for Black/African American employees, where she first met Scott.

“It’s painful to be an ‘only’ while going through such an intense and life-changing transformation as your first year in nursing. Black nurses in white environments are going above and beyond simply to survive; I know what that’s like. But COVID-19? Uncharted territory.”

Scott’s roundabout path to nursing began in Trinidad and Tobago where she got her bachelor’s degree in public sector management and communication studies. Although her mother and late father were forced to quit school at the elementary level and work, all six of their children completed advanced educations. Three became nurses, including Scott. “I wanted to do more, give more, experience more,” says Scott, who did missionary work and taught English in Mexico, where she stayed to earn a master’s degree in public health with a health administration concentration. Then she went to Haiti, where she worked as the director of education and training at a hospital. “That’s when I realized I was missing the practical knowledge of health care,” Scott says. She wanted to put hands on people, look them in the eyes and help them heal. When she came to the United States and her economics professor husband began teaching at Beloit College, the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Nursing was launching its accelerated 12-month Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Scott graduated in the first cohort. Soon after her 22-week orientation at University Hospital, COVID-19 hit.

“It was a scary time for everybody — there were a lot of unknowns,” Scott says. She opts to wear the powered air purifying respirator, or PAPR — a hooded, battery-operated respirator with a clear face shield — even though it requires extra time and care to gear up and down, and to clean between patients. “They can see my face, they can see me smile, they can see my concern for them,” she says. This is especially important for patients who are hard-of-hearing and patients of color who are comforted by a provider who looks like them, as well as Spanish speakers, as Scott is fluent. “I’d like to think I’m able to make some impact in some small way. Even just encouraging them in a moment they might feel depressed or lonely, especially now that people can’t have visitors during COVID.”

This representation is critical to patient-centered care, says Kendall, especially considering the spread of COVID-19 is exacerbated in communities of color. “She just has a quality about her that really inspires hope,” Kendall says. “I’m amazed and inspired by Aniqueka’s dedication and perseverance through this crash course. She represents the best in all of us nurses.”

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