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Leading by Example: Q&A with Rhonda Evans, RN

May 19, 2021

To build confidence in COVID-19 vaccines, academic medical centers can create opportunities for staff members such as Evans to share how they overcame concerns about getting vaccinated.

Rhonda Evans

Rhonda Evans, RN, understands other health care professionals’ concerns about getting vaccinated against COVID-19. As a nursing instructor at Fortis College in Nashville, Tennessee, she had worries of her own, given Black people’s difficult history with medical research. But at the end of the day, she says, she became a nurse 25 years ago to save lives. And she feels a responsibility toward her patients to help end the pandemic.

This mindset ultimately inspired her to overcome her own fears about the vaccine, join a COVID-19 vaccine blind study, and become part of medical history.

VaccineVoices talked with Evans about her decision to join the study, the concerns she overcame as a Black woman, and her advice to other health care professionals who are still unsure about getting vaccinated. Her thoughts are a good place to start when thinking about how to talk to health care personnel who are worried about the vaccines.

What inspired you to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine blind study?

Most people have never done anything like this or know anyone who has. I wanted to be an example for the Black community, as well as my family, to trust the science. This is something my grandkids can talk about and pass on to their kids, that they have a family member who participated in a COVID-19 vaccine study.

I still had some fears about it when I signed up, but I told myself to think about the people who participated in past immunization trials, like polio. Those participants also had no idea what would happen, but they trusted the science and now we don’t have to worry about polio anymore. I conquered my fear to be part of history, and I’m proud that I did.

You mentioned you previously had some concerns about the vaccine. What were they? 

For the most part, it was a fear of the unknown. Black people have a difficult history with the medical community. Incidents like the Tuskegee Study instill fear in many of us that we might not be treated the same as other groups. And there’s still so much prejudice in America today. Trust levels among Black people toward the government were already down when COVID-19 first hit, and even lower by the time the vaccines came out.

There’s also the fact that Black people are often still treated differently when they seek health care and tend to have worse outcomes than others. And that’s why outcomes were a big concern of mine with this vaccine, too. I thought, “What if they give the Black community something different than others?”

What advice would you give to other health care professionals who share your concerns?

We have to lead by example. We are health care professionals. We are here to take care of people. How are we going to do that if we don’t get vaccinated? If you have concerns about the vaccine, do your own research. Don’t draw conclusions based on what others say or think.

I know people who are unsure about the vaccine and are weighing the risks and benefits of getting it. But the risk they’re taking is the chance of getting COVID-19, and that is much worse than any of the potential side effects. I understand this vaccine is new, and people are not sure how to know if it’s safe. That’s why we need to do our research and educate ourselves. And above all else, we have to listen to and trust the medical professionals and the scientists who are telling us to get the vaccine.