Leading nursing organizations convened for the inaugural meeting of the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing. To motivate all nurses to confront systemic racism, the commission will examine the issue within nursing nationwide and describe its impact on nurses, patients, communities, and healthcare systems.
The commission is led by the American Nurses Association (ANA), National Black Nurses Association, National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations, and National Association of Hispanic Nurses. The commission members and organizations represent a broad continuum of nursing practice, ethnically diverse groups, and regions across the country.
The commission aims to lead a national discussion by exploring the experiences of nurses of color to understand the impact of systemic racism and to develop an action-oriented approach across the spectrum of education, practice, policy, and research.
“Racist attitudes, bias, stereotypes, and behaviors against nurses and nursing students of color have absolutely no place in nursing and are a direct contradiction to the core values and the Code of Ethics for Nurses. We know that the issue of racism in nursing is a persistent stain on our profession that directly impacts the quality of care for the patients and communities that we serve.
“Through this important and long overdue work, we can truly begin to describe and to understand what racism looks like within nursing as a starting point toward progress to meaningful changes. I am confident that this commission is the right group to do this because of the diverse perspectives and—most importantly—the lived experiences that we all bring to the table.”
— ANA President Ernest J. Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN
“The profession of nursing has a long history of institutional inequities, classism, and racism as evidenced by the low percentage of non-White nurses and less than 1% of the deans and chief nursing officers coming from diverse backgrounds. As prolific researchers and writers, nurses discuss diversity, healthy work environments, anti-bullying, interprofessional collaboration, patient-centered care, and inclusivity, but where are the scope and standards of practice against racism?
“Change starts with leadership, and too many of our nurse leaders are uncomfortable with open dialogue about racism, sexism, and classism, which means they have to examine their own practices and commit to healing and leading differently. For too long, our profession has treated racism as a small, localized abnormality when it is an open wound. Nurses know that a sterile bandage will not remove infection.
“In 2020, the Year of the Nurse, COVID-19 pandemic, social injustices and unrest, and the recent assault on the U.S. Capitol [in 2021] all point to one defining moment and that is change must come. Nursing has the opportunity to look in, lean in, and change our profession. It is not enough to be the most ‘trusted;’ we must become true healers and heal ourselves. This National Commission is committed to real change.”
— Martha A. Dawson, DNP, RN, FACHE, President
and CEO, National Black Nurses Association
“We have observed our own healthcare professionals and frontline nurses bravely battle COVID-19 for months. Many have lost their lives and others continue to risk their health. Now the exponential effects of racist behavior as expressed by people who are supposed to protect lives and allow for the enjoyment of a democratic society, have rattled the very foundation of a humane society.
“Our country is in a state of turmoil and an unending crisis that contributes to our long-term physical and mental health. Immigrants are detained and their children kidnapped, Asian Americans are attacked and blamed for the coronavirus, Native American women are kidnapped or murdered and their perpetrators are never brought to justice, and people of color are not protected by the laws of this land.
“As nurses, we call on all healthcare professionals to declare a state of public health emergency to address these social ills and move this country toward true equality. NCEMNA stands in solidarity with those seeking justice, equity, and peace for all people. As nurses, we promote the celebration of diversity, understanding, compassion, and equality for all. We challenge the nursing profession to make changes at all levels in education, practice, research, and policy to break down structural racism and discrimination.”
— Debra A. Toney, PhD, RN, FAAN, President,
The National Coalition of Ethnic Minority
“Racism within nursing has left lasting impacts on generations of nurses and continues to manifest as structural, institutional, systemic, and interpersonal racism in nursing and our society. The nursing profession, for decades, has attempted to launch and support efforts around ‘diversity,’ ‘equity,’ and ‘inclusion,’ but these initiatives make slow progress and do not specifically address the racism and racist policies that are steeped in the nursing profession. This inaction directly affects nurses of color, primarily Black, Brown, and Indigenous nurses, and creates barriers for entering, practicing, and pursuing leadership and research roles within the nursing profession.
“In addition, this Commission must address various forms of how racism manifests including colorism, microaggressions, White supremacy or White pathology, White dominant culture, and White privilege as well as how racism directly reveals itself as anti-Black and anti-Indigenous within all ethnic groups. There must be a centering of the lived experiences of nurses of color, especially Black, Brown, and Indigenous nurses, who historically have not had the opportunity to have their voices or lived experiences around racism acknowledged and affirmed. With 2020 and 2021 being the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, we must hold our profession accountable for its role in racism and racist policies to purposefully work towards educating nurses to be antiracist and promote antiracist policies within nursing.”
— Daniela Vargas, MSN, MPH, MA-Bioethics, RN, PHN, National Association of Hispanic Nurses Policy and Advocacy Committee Member
Racism is a public health crisis that impacts a person’s mental, spiritual, and physical health as well as overall quality of life. Racism in the nursing profession doesn’t align with the Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements, which obligates all nurses to be allies and to advocate for and speak up against racism, discrimination, and injustice. In addition to longstanding experiences with racist attitudes and behaviors in the workplace, nurses of color aren’t exempt from the longstanding disparities and inequities in healthcare or feeling the brunt of the persistent COVID-19 pandemic. A July 2020 American Nurses Foundation survey of more than 10,000 nurses found that Black and Hispanic/Latino nurses were more likely to be in roles providing direct care to patients with COVID-19 than White nurses (58% and 63% vs. 49%), and twice as likely to have been diagnosed with COVID-19 (10% and 11% vs. 5%).
The commission will meet monthly to explore and understand the issues of systemic racism within nursing through varied insights and perspectives to include subject matter experts and scholars on the issue. Later this year, the commission will host a virtual summit focused on activism and publish findings and a set of priority recommendations to address racism in nursing.