Black Stories: Herbert Druilhet, III
A Baldwin native with more than 26 years of nursing experience, Herbert leads a team of population health professionals here at Ochsner Lafayette General who work collaboratively with physicians, nurse practitioners and other care team members in an effort to improve the health of the patients we serve. He’s an avid reader and world traveler who has been a part of our family for the past seven years and holds a doctorate in nursing practice with a specialty in executive leadership. We sat down (virtually) with him recently to learn more about his experience as a person of color in healthcare and to learn more about his motivations and advice for those looking to enter the industry.
What made you want to work in healthcare?
I always had a passion for science and more specifically biology. A couple of my favorite activities at an early age were skinning rabbits and deer as well as fileting fish. The hunting and fishing experiences provided me with the opportunities to compare the anatomy of those animals to the science books I had read. I was also blessed to be acquainted with Dr. Gary Wiltz, MD of Franklin, Louisiana. He was an advocate for a healthy community, and his words resonated with me. After high school, I was initially headed to Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA) via a pre-med scholarship. A few last-minute decisions redirected me to the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette). I chose nursing at the suggestion of an aunt who was also a nurse. She informed me that I could acquire rewarding clinical experience prior to going to medical school. I decided to forgo med school and become a nurse practitioner instead. I again had the privilege to be acquainted with Dr. Gary Wiltz. During my master’s program, he served as my preceptor. I still utilize many of his teachings in daily practice.
As a Person of Color (POC) who works in healthcare, have there been any hurdles/obstacles you’ve had to overcome to get where you are today? If so, what are they?
As an African American male in nursing, I was challenged many times to share why I chose this profession as opposed to something else. Throughout my career, I have had to minimize my capabilities in order to not be seen as a professional threat to others. This is due to confidence and knowledge being misinterpreted as arrogance. I have had to prove myself above and beyond my colleagues. I remember two incidents that helped define who I am. I recall one incident in nursing school when I was called into my nursing instructor’s office. She told me I could be expelled from the university for cheating. She proceeded to ask me if I had a copy of the exam prior to the test. I had scored the highest on the exam. She asked questions related to the test content and after a few minutes she stopped and apologized. Another experience involved an incident in which a number of my colleagues stated I need to know my place, and I should be happy where I was. I sought clarification of the place they referenced. However, my question went unanswered. From those experiences and many others, I realized early that my success could be challenged because of the color of my skin. It also allowed me to understand that both conscious and unconscious biases exist in higher education and in the workforce.
How did you overcome them?
I had an excellent foundation paved by my family. My parents, aunts, and uncles instilled confidence in me by telling me that I was exceptional, and the only limiting factor to my success was between my ears. They also told me that my place in the world would only be defined by my determination. My family prepared me for the potential hardships I could experience and reminded me to always be encouraged in spite of them. My father instilled the value of an education and spoke to how it would be essential for any advancement. He lived in an era where your knowledge and experience were not taken into consideration with potential opportunity for advancement. As a result of their lived experiences, wisdom and guidance, I chose to work hard and continue to acquire the knowledge necessary to overcome any obstacle. If that obstacle seems to large to overcome, I seek guidance from those who are wiser.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to enter into this industry?
The advice I would give to anyone entering healthcare is to understand it is about serving others. Any monetary rewards that can be obtained pales in comparison to the rewards you would see through helping patients overcome any barrier to their care. Patients are entrusting us with their lives. It is incumbent upon us to use the privilege we are given to maximize the health of those we serve at any entry point into the healthcare continuum.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
I think of Black History Month as a continuum and not confined to the month of February. Black History Month was exemplified January 2021 when our first female Vice President of African and Asian descent was sworn in. Black History Month was also exemplified January 2008 when our first African American president was sworn in. I had the privilege to listen to many of the struggles that African Americans and other Persons of Color (POC) experienced in the 1960s. I understand the obstacles they had to overcome, and I use that to motivate myself every day. Both of my parents were leaders in their respective occupational fields. My father also served for over three decades as a councilman in Baldwin. They paved the way for not only my immediate family and me but also for others who followed in their footsteps. Black history continues to be made each day of the year as African Americans and other people of color become the first of many. This history of Black accomplishments will continue as progress is being made to become a more diverse, equitable and inclusive society.