Meet Nurx NP Ebony Walker
Two sexual wellness practitioners have a conversation with a Nurx medical provider about the importance of patient-centered care, empowerment and autonomy for Black women.
We had the pleasure of getting to know Nurx provider, Ebony Walker. Ebony is a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner who specializes in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Her extensive career in labor and delivery, maternal, child and community home health informs her work as an affirming, charismatic and passionate healthcare provider.
As sexual wellness practitioners rooted in social justice and Public Health, we value the importance of bridging conversations about sexual wellness and sexual health for Black women. Far too often, conversations about Black women’s sexual health and wellness center on health disparity, obstetric violence and inequitable access to health sustaining resources. Though important, it leaves little room for Black women themselves to learn how to consciously and confidently navigate their unique healthcare journey.
Here, we’ll chat with Ebony about the importance of self-advocacy, collaboration and bringing your whole life (yes, we mean your sex life!) into your medical appointment so that your care is centered on the most important person: YOU.
It’s so important to know and feel comfortable with your healthcare provider to ensure that they are a good fit for you and that your healthcare needs will be met. Can you tell us what led you to your work as a nurse practitioner with a specialty in OB-GYN?
I have this belief that we are what we need and that we are all that we’ve got.
As a feminist, I’ve always had a genuine passion for empowering women, so I wanted to devote my education and training to empowering us. As women, we are so multifaceted — whether that means running our own businesses or taking care of our families and communities. We wear so many hats and may not prioritize ourselves and our health while we are caring for everyone else. As Black women, we may not think and talk about the full scope of our sexual lives because embarrassment or shame keeps us from having these important conversations. So, I went into obstetrics and gynecology specifically as an opportunity to have these important conversations while supporting and empowering women throughout their lives. There is power in education and the more we educate women, especially Black women, the more power we give her to empower herself, her children and her community. It’s a passion of mine!
We love that you said, “we are all that we’ve got!” because we really are all that we have in terms of helping and healing each other. We need to start having more of these conversations, especially with our healthcare providers.
What should women do and think about in preparation for their annual wellness visit?
It’s a good practice to check in on your contraception use, vaginal and breast health in preparation for your appointment and conversation with your healthcare provider. By doing self-chest exams, you should be aware of what is normal for your breasts from month-to-month and if there is anything abnormal, you can talk about that with your healthcare provider.
For your vaginal health, consider not having vaginal sex at least 48 hours before your Pap smear as sex can irritate cervical cells and produce an abnormal result. You want to also be mindful of the products that you use on your body. For instance, some products such as douches can cause an imbalance of vaginal flora (bacteria that live in the vagina) and natural acidity of the vagina. So, the same way we want to make sure a hair care product will grow or treat your hair, you want to make sure the products you use are safe for your vaginal health. It is also recommended that you get tested at least once a year for sexually transmitted diseases, regardless of your relationship status and with each new sexual partner. You want to have an open and honest conversation with your provider and partner(s) about your testing history and practices and about which safer sex method works best for you.
We totally agree! Just like we may never miss a hair appointment, getting tested regularly (regardless of your relationship status!) is a commitment to your body and your sexual health. For Black women in particular, there are so many things such as fear, stigma, bias and racism that get in the way of us accessing health along our sexual wellness journey.
How do you address the stigma, bias and reproductive (in)justice that Black women face in health care in your practice?
It’s funny that you mention that because I know some practitioners won’t offer testing to married or older women and I am always baffled because in what book is that considered quality health care? It should be offered to all women regardless of her age or relationship status.
In the past, I worked as a women’s health nurse practitioner at a federally qualified health center (FQHC), which are local, non-profit or city-run primary care providers serving low-income families. During my time there, I worked primarily with African-American and Hispanic uninsured and under-insured women. A lot of times when individuals receive care from a free clinic or a clinic that receives federal funding, there is this idea that the quality of care is different or less than because you’re not paying what you might pay in a private practice setting. So as a practitioner, I made it my personal business to ensure the quality of care that I provided did not change regardless of the setting I worked in. I made sure I took my time to explain things such as diagnoses, medications and treatments to patients to make it more of a collaborative and informed experience for them. It’s all about empowering the patient in front of me because when she is empowered and informed, she can inform others and her community.
You brought this up earlier, but we love that you stress the importance of working with your provider to make healthcare decisions. Why is it so important to be in collaboration with your healthcare provider?
It’s all about empowerment. When you come into the office to see me or whether we are over a telehealth platform, it is so vital that you bring your questions — whatever they may be. When you do, it puts the practitioner in a position to be accountable to answer the questions that you have. When you’re getting your questions answered, it gives you a better idea of how you can direct your care. Here at Nurx, we offer a variety of services from birth control, STI testing, migraine treatment to HIV PrEP. When discussing birth control options, together, we discuss your lifestyle and decide which option might work best for you. As a practitioner, it’s important that the care you provide is patient driven and provider implemented. It’s about asking, “what are your thoughts about that?”. I want to ensure that the time we have together is a sacred space where you have a say because patient autonomy is imperative.
You deserve to be educated and empowered enough to make the most informed decisions for your life.
Wow! We really want to reimagine healthcare because 15 minutes isn’t enough time to talk with your provider about all the things that come up in your life, like pleasure. What kind of conversations do you have with your patients about pleasure in their sex lives?
Between those 4 walls or across the screen, I create an intimate space where there is no judgement. For example, some women have come to me during pregnancy and are unsure of what sexual positions are comfortable and safe. Together we can discuss comfortable ways for you to be intimate with your partner while honoring your body. Or, if you’re curious about how body safe different menstrual products or sex toys are, we can discuss that. It’s all about removing the stigma and making you feel comfortable enough to reach out to get what you need. To really reimagine healthcare, you have to have a paradigm shift and focus more on the patient experience. At Nurx, I love that I am not on a time crunch and that I have the liberty to connect with my patients in different ways.
We believe that sexual wellness is a new possibility for our healing and that we each have our own unique journey. What is one piece of advice you would give to Black women to support them on their sexual wellness journey?
My biggest advice would be to love yourself first and know that your body is yours. Remember that you have full autonomy over who you allow into your physical and emotional space, so be mindful and ask a lot of questions!
About the Authors
Kimberly Huggins, LSW, MPH, MEd, and Brittany Brathwaite, MSW, MPH, are the Co-Founders and Co-CEOs of Kimbritive, a New York-based company focused on creating real, empowering conversations and sexual wellness workshops for Black women and girls. Kimberly is a licensed social worker and human sexuality educator who is passionate about reproductive health and the emotional wellbeing for people living with HIV and stigmatized health conditions. Brittany is a reproductive justice activist, youth worker and community accountable scholar with a deep commitment to supporting the leadership, organizing, and healing of girls of color.