Caregiver Spotlight

PHP Caregiver Spotlight: Ronald Harris

29 February 2024

As a Utilization Review Nurse, Harris uses his skills in nursing to help members get the care they need

When Ronald Harris came to Providence Health Plan (PHP) in 2023, he had been a nurse for nearly eight years. After the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he transitioned from frontline work to caring for patients on the back end as a Utilization Review Nurse working to keep healthcare costs low and accessible for all.

“Working as a nursing supervisor in primary care gave me a strong understanding of office visits and referrals and the behind-the-scenes, which makes my job easier now,” he said. If a prior authorization or a claim was denied, the health plan can resubmit for reconsideration to see if they can overturn the decision. “I love that I can use my understanding of the systems at work to make it easier for the member,” he said.

Although Harris is grateful for the skills and knowledge he built as a nursing supervisor, he said the work was incredibly challenging for him — especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was a lot working as both a nurse and working as a dark skin individual – especially with the aftermath of George Floyd,” Harris said. “I was constantly anxious about the health and safety of myself, my family and my friends. I went through an extremely dark and hopeless period.”

Ronald Harris at a Providence Health Plan eventHarris has been in his current role since May 2023 and says he enjoys working with different systems that require critical thinking and creativity. “My journey through nursing has been anything but easy, but the work I’m able to do now makes me glad to be in the field. In my job at Providence Health Plan, I honestly feel the most supported I have ever felt in my career. I’m really thankful to be here and to do work through PHP.” 

Harris’ interest in nursing began when his 11th-grade anatomy teacher encouraged him to look into the field. “I enjoy learning how the human body works, and my teacher saw that and encouraged me to go for nursing,” he said.

Harris found an opportunity at the University of Michigan for people from underrepresented backgrounds to come to the campus for two weeks, and learned what it would mean to be a nursing student in his high school Career Center. “Being in that program finalized what I wanted to do with my career trajectory,” Harris said.

Ronald Harris at Michigan State UniversityAfter visiting the campus, Harris was admitted to nursing school as a high school student through another program at Michigan State University called ACCESS (Achieving Culturally Competent Education and Student Success). The program provided financial and educational support to individuals from an economically or educationally disadvantaged background. 

“I was a Black, first-generation college student from a low-income family, but as long as I kept my GPA requirement, I could keep my seat in the program,” he said. Harris grew up in Michigan with his mother and stepfather, who were both blue-collar workers and supported him. But right before he was scheduled to begin nursing school, Harris was hit by a car, delaying his start.

Ronald Harris with his momDespite the accident, Harris was determined to succeed, and when he was able, he began the program. Nursing school alone is hard, but on top of that, Harris was one of five Black students in the program and was still trying to heal and strengthen his legs after being in the accident, and on top of that, it was during the polar vortex, which made walking to classes on still-healing legs a challenge of its own. “It felt like it was one trial after another. I almost gave up, but my mom and friends in the nursing program provided me the support I needed to hold on,” he said. 

Harris received the Martin Luther King Scholarship, and on the application, it asked him to share the most challenging thing he had to go through to maintain his academic career. “The challenging thing was suffering from a broken leg injury post-accident and staying motivated to still start the nursing program and graduate” he said.

At his graduation, Harris said he danced across the stage. “I was dancing and crying, and to make it more special, my dean was the First Black Male to hold the position, and I was the first Black student he was graduating.”

Ronald Harris in his graduation cap and gown Ronald Harris receiving his diploma

Since then, Harris completed his master’s degree in nursing informatics and worked to use his experiences to relate with people. Community and culture have allowed Harris to connect with people in deeper ways — especially with other members of the Black community. “I found that I understood things at a deeper level when I could connect the work with culture,” he said. Harris says in his work as a nurse, he has used culture and Black cinema to educate patients and members. 

Ronald Harris with his degree“I’ve used the movie Soul Food to educate about diabetes, I’ve been able to talk about ALS with people by relating it to the show called Empire, and I’ve discussed colon cancer by talking about people like Chadwick Boseman,” he said. “It was easier for me to remember information when relating it to Black characters or people I know, so I use those tools to connect with members on a deeper level.

“As we’re starting 2024, I feel hopeful for the first time in a while. I love my job, I’m committed to mental and physical health, and I’m grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to be in groups like the Alliance of Black Nurses Association of Oregon (ABNAO) and share my story so that other people can hear that their experiences are not isolated. There’s something very powerful about speaking out and allowing others the space to as well.”

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