94% of nurses say there is racism in healthcare: survey


According to a new survey, 94% of nurses say there is “a lot” or “a little” racism in their profession.

The main area where racism is experienced by nurses is in their career path (28.7%). Incivility and bullying (10.5%) and interactions with colleagues (10.5%) are other acts associated with racism, reports the survey of more than 5,600 nurses.

Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, president of the American Nurses Association (ANA), said in a statement that he and his colleagues were “disturbed, triggered and disturbed by the egregious data and heartbroken by the personal stories of nurses.” Grant is co-lead of the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing, which released the survey.

Martha Dawson, DPN

“From the bedside to the boardroom, I’ve been in many different places…in hospitals as well as in academia as a teacher, and I’ve worked as a nurse consultant. In each space, I have seen [racism] introduce yourself,” said Martha Dawson, DNP, RN, president of the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA). Medscape Medical News.

Other organizations participating in the National Commission to Combat Racism in Nursing include the National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurses Associations and the National Association of Hispanic Nurses.

Nurses of different races experience racism differently

Sixty-three percent of nurses said they had personally experienced racism on the job, but nurses of different races experience racism differently. While 92% of black nurses said they had personally experienced workplace racism, 73% of Asian American nurses, 69% of Latina nurses, and only 28% of white nurses said they had this experience; 74% of nurses who consider themselves multi-ethnic or of another race said they experienced racism.

Other findings from the survey include the following:

  • Sixty-six percent of respondents experience racism when the offender is a peer and 60% when it is a manager or supervisor.

  • Among nurses who witnessed an act of racism at work, 81% said it was directed at a peer.

  • Almost 60% (57%) of nurses said they had fought racism in the workplace, but 64% said no change had occurred as a result of their efforts.

Amid the racial justice protests in June 2020, the ANA described racism as “a public health crisis that impacts everyone’s mental, spiritual and physical health.” At the time, the ANA made various commitments, including the following:

  • Uphold the Code of Ethics for Nurses, which recognizes “human dignity regardless of race, culture, creed, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, age, experience or any aspect of identity”;

  • Collaborate with nurses to end systemic racism, especially in the nursing profession, while advocating for the need to address health inequalities in the community and in the health system that result from racism;

  • Promote dialogue, effective listening and engagement to improve the health of all communities.

In 2021, the National Commission to Combat Racism in Nursing defined racism as “assaults on the human spirit in the form of actions, prejudices, prejudices and an ideology of superiority based on the race that persistently cause mental suffering and physical harm to individuals and perpetuate systemic injustices and inequalities.”

Racism can also be associated with colorism, which is another challenge in healthcare settings, said Daniela Vargas, MPH, RN, clinical nurse and DNP student at the University of San Francisco. Medscape Medical News. Her advice to nurses: be prepared to have uncomfortable conversations with colleagues and treat these situations as “teachable moments”.

Colorism is a type of discrimination generally based on skin color, where lighter skin color is often preferred over darker skin color within a racial or ethnic group, according to the Pew Research Center. A November Pew poll found that a majority (62%) of Latino adults said having darker skin color had a negative impact on their career advancement.

Health leaders must “set the tone”

Dawson encourages health officials to “review the data” revealed in the report and then act on that data. “Whether you like it or not, [you] must own indoor climate and environment [your] organizations, because [you] set the tone,” she said Medscape Medical News.

To combat racism, she recommends health officials look to best practices for ending workplace bullying. A 2018 book on the subject recommends a variety of options, which may include the following:

  • Changes to policies and procedures, training of staff and managers, and monitoring of bullying behavior;

  • Require that the bullied employee receive an apology from their colleague;

  • Offer compensation to the bullied employee; and

  • Disciplinary measures, which may include dismissal, but also training, coaching and/or counselling.

Dawson also champions increasing the number of black, Asian-American, Latina, Native American and Alaska Native nurses. According to the NBMA, blacks make up just 7.8% of the nation’s roughly 4 million registered nurses, while non-white nurses make up a total of 26.7% of registered nurses. Increasing the number of blacks in the nursing profession to 15.6% is the organization’s long-term goal.

She mentions the NBMA’s Mini Nurse Academy, which was launched in 2018 to expose students from traditionally underrepresented communities in grades 3-6 to the nursing profession as part of an effort to increase diversity. The program also connects students with role models and mentors as they continue through middle school and high school. Currently, nine cities and states host the program.

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