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How to address racial injustice in the workplace and community


To: Ethics Advisory Board   

From: Concerned RN

Subject: I want to make a difference

I am a white frontline nurse in a medium-sized, full-service hospital. I am profoundly moved by the injustices I see occurring to ethnically and racially diverse people on the news, and by extension, to colleagues and patients in my own place of employment.

I chose nursing as a career in part because of the belief that all people should be respected, regardless of their background, race, ethnicity, or culture. Do you have any suggestions for how I can make a difference? 

From: ANA Center for Ethics and Human Rights

It’s true—nurses work every day to save lives and act as a voice for those with no voice in their communities, as the American Academy of Nursing notes in its position statement about addressing racism. And we are in a time of crisis in our country. David Brooks wrote in a recent op-ed in The New York Times, “All Americans, but especially white Americans, are undergoing a rapid education on the burdens African Americans carry every day. This education is continuing, but already public opinion is shifting with astonishing speed.”

The professional foundation for this change already exists. The ANA Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (Code) calls respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and unique attributes of all individuals a fundamental principle that underlies all nursing practice.

So, what can you do? Here are some suggestions, adapted from a presentation by Emmanuel Cleaver III.

Speak up when others make racist comments. Communicate that racist comments are not okay—at work, in public, and in family gatherings. You can do this calmly and without judgment. Health disparities in minority populations are well documented, particularly in this time of COVID-19. The Code tells us that, as nurses, we must continually emphasize the values of respect, fairness, and caring within the national and global nursing communities to promote health in all sectors of the population. This can start close to home.

Recognize your voice as both a human being and a professional nurse. The Code states that nurses provide leadership in the development and implementation of changes in public and health policies that support the duty of respect for human worth. Educate your colleagues and help your team do something to make change for good. If you’re in a leadership role, you also have a responsibility to ensure that employees are treated fairly and justly.

Advocate for more diversity in corporate boardrooms. The Code indicates that all nurses must commit to advancing health, welfare, and safety. Nurses also should collaborate with others to change unjust structures and processes. Talk with nurse colleagues and others who are from minority groups and encourage them to pursue service on boards of directors. They will need the support of friends and colleagues to reach this goal.

Actively try to understand cultures, ethnicities, and races that are different from your own. Intentionally open your mind to the experiences of human beings from different backgrounds. Seek first to understand, and in turn, your own influence and leadership will be more effective.

Nurses, who fundamentally believe in the inherent worth of all human beings, recognize that the time is now to step forward and speak up.

— Response by Nelda Godfrey, PhD, ACNS-BC, RN,
FAAN, ANEF, member of ANA’s Ethics and
Human Rights Advisory Board

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