In a recent survey of nurses (n=5,600), 63% of respondents reported having experienced racism in the workplace. These racist acts were mainly done by peers (66%) or a manager or supervisor (60%). Such widespread racism should send shockwaves throughout a profession known for its caring and compassion. These findings outlined in a report from the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing are a clarion call to all members of the profession regardless of specialty or practice setting.
These and other revelations are both disturbing and promising. Disturbing in that the profession must grapple with such pervasive racism that undermines some the profession’s most treasured values, respectfulness and caring. Promising in that nurses have a renewed opportunity and obligation to move forward with a genuine commitment to address all forms of racism across all areas of nursing.
As Black nurse leaders who have experienced racism at some point during our careers, we know first-hand what it means to feel marginalized, left out, treated with disrespect when caring for patients, or pursuing professional endeavors. Although we are doctoral prepared nurses with decades of service to the profession, we are not exempt from being subjected to racist remarks and behaviors from members within our profession. It is important that we acknowledge that most of our colleagues do not exhibit these unacceptable behaviors. However, we are committed to finding ways to mitigate racism whenever it shows up so that other nurses of color will feel welcomed and valued as contributing members of the profession.
The Commission’s report paints a somber picture of the necessary work to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion within nursing. To illustrate, findings showed that Black nurses (92%), Asian nurses (73%), and Hispanic nurses (69%) have personally experienced racism while working. Sadly, 64% of those who reported acts of racism found no follow up action after reporting racism in the workplace.
Thankfully, many nurse leaders, nursing organizations, and schools and colleges of nursing have declared racism unacceptable and have expressed their commitment to ensuring antiracism, equity, diversity and inclusion within the profession. Many members of the nursing community have stepped forward to implement strategies to mitigate racism in nursing. For example, The American Nurses’ Association (ANA), in conjunction with the National Black Nurses Association, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, and the National Coalition of Ethnic-Minority Nurse Associations, have taken bold steps by spearheading a national discourse on racism in nursing and is encouraging others to do the same. Long overdue, the ANA has become steadfast in dismantling the ways in which their own policies and practices have perpetuated racism in nursing. This is particularly significant given that black nurses have traditionally struggled to achieve professional parity, including integration into the ANA in the early 1900s.
These calls to action are not unique to nursing. The American Medical Association has acknowledged medicine’s history of racism and its impact on patients and providers of color. Such movement is critical to building trust and respect among members of any profession and society as a whole. Nursing is no exception.
Although nursing has been hailed as the most trusted profession for the last 20 years, this honorable distinction will be tarnished if nursing does not move swiftly to facilitate and support its own healing. We acknowledge that there are many problems to conquer within the profession especially in wake of the current pandemic. However, racism in nursing should not be one of them.
Now more than ever, our profession needs to move toward racial healing. There is an urgent need for nursing to acknowledge its history of racism, boldly confront racism wherever it shows up, and address the racism that nurses witness when delivering care to those they serve. This will not happen until nurses engage in self-awareness and reflection as well as confront any personal racist attitudes and behaviors. When nursing demonstrates a commitment to creating an antiracist culture within the profession, nurses and patients, both in need of healing, will be better served.
It is our hope that this report will open a window of opportunity for nursing to acknowledge its history of racism and resolve to solidify a future that is welcoming, respectful, and supportive of all nurses regardless of race, ethnicity, or any other unique attributes. Anything less is counter to the core principles of a profession that demands caring, compassion, and respect for everyone.
Janice Phillips and Katie Boston-Leary are nurses.
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