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Racism in Nursing

Commission survey finds racist acts prevalent in nursing

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A national survey of nurses by the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing (the Commission) found that nearly half of participants reported substantial racism in nursing, demonstrating a major problem within the profession. The survey findings were released in January, on the one-year anniversary of the Commission’s launch.

According to more than 5,600 survey respondents, racist acts are principally perpetrated by colleagues and those in positions of power. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of nurses surveyed said that they have personally experienced an act of racism in the workplace, with the transgressors being a peer (66%), a patient (63%), or a manager or supervisor (60%). Of those nurses who reported having witnessed an act of racism in the workplace (76%), 81% said it was directed toward a peer. Nurse respondents said that they’ve challenged racist treatment in the workplace (57%), but more than half (64%) said that their efforts resulted in no change.

“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 Commission Co-Lead and American Nurses Association (ANA) President Ernest J. Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN. “We are even more motivated and committed to doing justice to this important work. Racism and nurses who commit racist acts have absolutely no place in the nursing profession.”

The Commission conducted the survey—to which 5,623 nurses responded—from October 7 to 31, 2021, as part of its efforts to lead a national discussion to address racism in nursing.

Most Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) survey respondents reported personally experiencing racism in the workplace, including those in Hispanic (69%) and Asian (73%) populations as well as other communities of color (74%). Overwhelmingly, the survey findings highlight significant, clear, and systemic differences in the experiences between Black nurses and White nurses. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of Black nurses who responded said that there is a lot of racism in nursing compared to less than one-third (29%) of White nurse respondents. Nearly all Black respondents (92%) reported having personally experienced racism, and Black nurses were over five times as likely to experience racism from a manager or supervisor compared to their White counterparts. More than three-quarters of Black nurses surveyed expressed that racism in the workplace has negatively impacted their professional well-being, compared to one third of White nurses.

Prior to the survey, the Commission conducted listening sessions that revealed BIPOC nurses suffer invisible boundaries, limitations, and denial of opportunities because of unfair structural and systemic practices that advantage White nurses. These findings move beyond the rhetoric to the reality and should serve as a call-to-action for all nurses to confront racism in the profession.

“Structural and systemic practices that allow the racist behaviors of leaders to continue to go unaddressed must be dismantled,” said Commission Co-lead and National Black Nurses Association President and CEO Martha A. Dawson, DNP, RN, FACHE. “As cliché as it sounds, it starts at the top. 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 racist attitudes, actions, behaviors, and processes.”

A broad coalition of nursing associations launched the Commission in January 2021 to examine how racism affects nurses, their patients, and society, and to motivate all nurses to confront systemic racism. Since then, the Commission has convened listening sessions with BIPOC nurses and hosted a virtual summit with subject matter experts focused on activism. Collaborating with top scholars on the issue, the Commission developed a new definition of racism to establish a baseline for holding conversations, reflect on individual or collective behaviors, and set a foundation for the work ahead. The Commission’s full report will be published in the coming months. More about the Commission’s work is available here.
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Project ECHO program to confront racism.

Project ECHO logoIn March, the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing (the Commission) is launching Project ECHO® on Racism in Nursing, a free tele-mentoring program that connects nurses with diversity, equity, and inclusion experts using brief lectures, case-based learning, and discussions. During eight 1-hour sessions from March to June 2022, participants will view didactic lectures offered by subject matter expert faculty and mentors and join case presentations and discussions. Project ECHO® on Racism in Nursing will use an all-teach, all-learn approach to redefine how nurses learn about racism and allyship, and provide tools and resources to confront and dismantle racism within the nursing profession and healthcare.

Sessions will cover a broad range of topics including understanding unconscious bias and microaggressions, confronting racism in nursing units and at the bedside, and understanding nurses’ ethical responsibilities to the profession and patients. Participants also will explore how to have courageous conversations and develop allyship, as well as how to handle any retaliation that surfaces from reporting racist acts and behaviors. In addition, the series will examine racism in academia, how to navigate the burden of representation and combat imposter syndrome, and consider lessons learned and steps for moving forward.

Although registration has closed for the sessions beginning in March, registration opens in February for the next set of sessions commencing in June. More information is available here.

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