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Racism Reaches Nearly Every Corner of Nursing, New Survey Reveals

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   January 27, 2022

Racism and those who practice it have 'absolutely no place in the nursing profession,' ANA president says.

Racism in nursing is extensive, say nurses who responded to a new national survey of nurses, with racist acts committed principally by colleagues and those in positions of power.

More than half (63%) of nurses surveyed said they have personally experienced an act of racism in the workplace with the transgressors being either a peer (66%) or a manager or supervisor (60%), according to more than 5,600 nurses surveyed by the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing.

Of those nurses who report that they have witnessed an act of racism in the workplace, 81% say it was directed toward a peer. Nurses said they have challenged racist treatment in the workplace (57%), but more than half (64%) said their efforts resulted in no change, according to the survey.

"Speaking truth to power takes courage," one nurse respondent said. "I have been ostracized for my advocacy and passed over for promotions."

The commission, comprised of leading nursing organizations, explores the issue of racism within nursing nationwide and details the impact on nurses, patients, communities, and healthcare systems to motivate all nurses to confront systemic racism.

"My colleagues and I braced ourselves for these findings. Still, we are disturbed, triggered, and unsettled by the glaring data and heartbroken by the personal accounts of nurses," said Ernest J. Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN, commission co-lead and president of the American Nurses Association (ANA).

"We are even more motivated and committed to doing this important work justice," he said. "Racism and those individuals who do not commit to changing their ways but continue to commit racist acts have absolutely no place in the nursing profession."

Many respondents across the Asian (73%) and Hispanic (69%) populations as well as other communities of color (74%) reported that they have personally experienced racism in the workplace.

Other findings include:

  • Black nurses are more likely to both personally experience and confront acts of racism.
  • 72% of Black nurses who responded said there is a lot of racism in nursing, compared to 29% of white nurse respondents.
  • 92% of Black respondents have personally experienced racism in the workplace from their leaders (70%), peers (66%), and the patients in their care (68%).

"I have been called the 'n' word by multiple patients on multiple occasions … I have been called 'colored' by a nurse manager," one respondent commented.

More than three-fourths of Black nurses surveyed expressed that racism in the workplace has negatively impacted their professional well-being.

"I have felt as if there was no way I would advance my career at some facilities due to my race," wrote a survey respondent. "This has caused stress, anxiety, and some depression."

Systemic practices that allow racist behaviors by leaders to go unchecked must be dismantled, said Martha A. Dawson, DNP, RN, FACHE, commission co-lead and National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) president and CEO.

"As cliché as it sounds, it starts at the top," Dawson said. "Leaders must be accountable for their own actions, set an example for their teams, and create safe work environments where there is zero-tolerance for racists attitudes, actions, behaviors, and processes."

Nurses are professionally and ethically bound to speak up against racism and discrimination, said Debra A. Toney, PhD, RN, FAAN, commission co-lead and president of National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Association (NCEMNA).

"Civil rights and social movements throughout history offer the blueprint, which demonstrates that diligent allyship is key to progress," Toney said. "To the nurses that challenge racism in the workplace, do not get dismayed by inaction, but continue to raise your voice and be a change agent for good."

“I have felt as if there was no way I would advance my career at some facilities due to my race. This has caused stress, anxiety, and some depression.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

63% of nurses surveyed said they have personally experienced an act of racism in the workplace.

72% of responding Black nurses said there is a lot of racism in nursing, compared to 29% of white nurse respondents.

Nurses are professionally and ethically bound to speak up against racism and discrimination, nurse leader says.


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