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Nurses and the public’s trust

By: Ernest J. Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN

Speaking out against racism, discrimination, and prejudice.

We’re extremely fortunate to be members of a profession that the public considers the most honest and ethical for the 18th year in a row, according to the latest Gallup poll. Patients trust us to provide the clinical care they need. And they count on us to always do the right thing for them and others in their community. What an enormous honor and responsibility.

As nurses and community members, we can face an ethical issue at any time. We may find ourselves having to make sure a patient’s end-of-life wishes are honored, to advocate for a safe work environment, or to speak out against acts of racism and discrimination affecting individuals and entire populations. It’s this last issue I’d like to address here—not only because of the rise of uncivil and hateful speech and actions, but also to reemphasize our ethical duty to speak out.

One of our fundamental guides, the American Nurses Association (ANA) Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements, clearly states that nurses must practice with respect for the dignity, worth, and unique attributes of all our patients. To do this, we must identify and set aside our biases or prejudices so we can build trusting relationships with patients and provide the best care that everyone deserves. We also can find ourselves on the receiving end of racism and discrimination as we go about our practice, which is something I personally experienced during my career.

All of us are shaped by our cultures and personal experiences, but I have no doubt that nurses do their best to follow our Code and to navigate ethical issues at the bedside and in other practice environments. However, the Code also speaks to our larger role and responsibility in the areas of human rights, social justice, and disparity reduction. So, I’m asking you to go beyond your practice settings to advocate more broadly, if you aren’t already. I think it’s crucial that we all stand up and speak out against racism, discrimination, and prejudice whenever and wherever it occurs—workplaces, communities, and the political arena.

We may believe our voices and actions can’t possibly matter in the face of such deeply entrenched societal issues and beliefs. And it takes courage. But this phrase comes to mind: Trees grow from the roots up. One positive action by one person can lead to many more people working for the rights of all. The Year of the Nurse campaign and National Volunteer Week (April 19-25) provide us with the perfect platforms to strengthen our advocacy.

Consider starting a group, or volunteering in one, that addresses discrimination, prejudice, and other social justice issues—including social determinants of health—in your workplaces, communities, and professional associations. Raise these same issues with political candidates and other policymakers and hold them accountable. Again, our Code can help guide you in these conversations, as can the ANA Center for Ethics and Human Rights, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The center has many powerful resources, including a position statement and an educational video on nurses’ roles in addressing discrimination, that can help you in this vital work.

Together, we can grow a world where social injustice, incivility, racism, discrimination, and prejudice against anyone—because of their faith, gender, color, ethnicity, or other characteristic—will not be tolerated. And I believe in the power of nurses to lead that change.



– Ernest J. Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN, President, American Nurses Association

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