Combating Racism and Discrimination in the Nursing Profession

In the nursing profession, diversity is essential for providing effective and equitable care to individuals from all backgrounds. Unfortunately, racism and discrimination continue to exist, impeding both patient outcomes and the professional growth of BIPOC nurses. The healthcare industry and nursing profession must address these issues head-on and work towards creating a more inclusive and diverse workforce for nurses.

Recently, a survey gathered insights from nurses to learn more about how race and ethnicity played a role in their experiences in their work. This survey had troublesome findings that need to be considered. The reality? Many nurses working hard to care for their patients deal with racism and bias, not just from patients but also from colleagues. 

These issues should be a central concern of all individuals and institutions in healthcare. Fortunately, changes are starting, but they require all nurses to buy in and begin to take their own steps to help address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.

Current Issues in Nursing

Racism, lack of diversity, and underlying biases have long been a problem in nursing, and healthcare as a whole. While it’s often discussed from a nurse/patient dynamic, the systemic issues of racism and discrimination among nurses are problematic as well. 

According to survey results by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, nurses have reported facing a high level of racism and discrimination in the workplace. And, that racism didn’t just come from patients — it also came from colleagues, according to 59% of respondents. 

The survey also found that Asian, Black/African-American, and Latino/Hispanic nurses were more likely to have experienced or seen microaggressions in the workplace when compared to their white or Caucasian counterparts. Reportedly, two out of three dealt with microaggressions regarding ethnicity or race from patients, and almost half reported they faced those same kinds of microaggressions from their colleagues. 

While many organizations are beginning to place a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, there are still issues impacting nurses today and the care they provide to patients. Nine out of 10 respondents of the survey reported that racism or discrimination had affected their well-being or mental health. And, in another report, it was found that the dissatisfaction and emotional distress caused by racism in the workplace could actually be influencing much-needed nurses into leaving the profession

How to Address Racism in Nursing

The only way to put an end to biases, prejudice, and racism in healthcare is by addressing it head-on. By making individual and systemic changes and addressing the core issues leading to DEI-related issues, it’s possible to make a difference in the long term for patients and nurses alike. 

Everyone should have access to the quality healthcare they need, and nurses and other healthcare workers should get the respect and support they deserve within work environments free of discrimination and racism. Representation in healthcare matters — the right changes today will improve diversity and representation in nursing in the years to come. 

There are several ways that individuals and organizations can address racism and promote diversity. From the previously mentioned survey, eight out of 10 nurses stated that they felt there should be additional training and education on diversity, equity, and inclusion during nursing school, for example. Connecting with underserved communities and beginning DEI initiatives can also be supportive of more equitable work environments. 

While there are challenges that stand in the way of increasing representation, it is necessary to place a focus on improving DEI through upskilling as well. Targeted recruitment programs, scholarships, mentorship programs, and other steps can help encourage more diverse healthcare professionals to come into the field and take part in making it more diverse and inclusive for all. 

Benefits of DEI in Healthcare

And don’t forget, there are real benefits to this diversity — with better diversity in healthcare, you, and the organizations you’re part of, can:

  • Provide more compassionate care to patients from all backgrounds and walks of life.
  • Create opportunities to engage, improve policies, and have increased buy-in of those policies in the workplace. 
  • Have better retention thanks to improved workplaces.
  • Build better understanding for stronger relationships with patients seeking care.
  • Have an opportunity to innovate. With diverse perspectives, it’s possible to improve processes and productivity. 
  • Build a better reputation known for community, diversity, inclusion, and more. 

National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing

The importance of DEI is becoming obvious across the industry, and leading nursing organizations have launched the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing. The Commission is being led by several groups including the:

  • National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations (NCEMNA)
  • National Black Nurses Association (NBNA)
  • American Nurses Association (ANA)
  • National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN)

The Commission is designed to create a nationwide discussion about the experiences nurses of color have experienced and to look at how systemic racism affects healthcare today. Additionally, the Commission plans to create an action plan that will address racism and diversity in education, policy, research, and practice.

Other Efforts

In addition to this Commission, the American Nurses Association’s Center for Ethics and Human Rights has released its position on racism in nursing affirming the organization’s commitment to resisting colonized practices and thought while introducing an emancipatory approach to nursing that is rooted in social justice and an aim at advancing health equity. 

The ANA has gone on to make three recommendations to help nurses participate and practice emancipatory nursing, including:

  1. Acknowledging and recognizing tangible risks associated with decolonizing nursing.
  2. Engaging in critical, and ongoing, self-reflection to identify fears and racist assumptions, biases, and issues that may hinder respectful care.
  3. Investing in the development of policy-level advocacy skills.

SHC’s Commitment

At Supplemental Health Care, we believe that by working together, all nurses can help dismantle racism in healthcare. By striving to combat the negative biases and supporting initiatives to address current issues, real change can happen. With everyone’s help, the environments our healthcare workers (including you) work in will be safer, more effective, and more inclusive. Change starts at the individual level, but with growing efforts across the healthcare industry, we can improve the future of nursing for all.