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Toward a more inclusive nursing profession

By: Sarah Simons, MSW; Cheryl Peterson, MSN, RN; and Ruth Francis, MPH, MCHES

National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing reaches 2-year mark.

It’s been a momentous 2 years since the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing (the Commission) formed in January 2021. Co-led by four nursing organizations—the American Nurses Association (ANA), National Black Nurses Association, National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations, and National Association of Hispanic Nurses—and propelled by representatives from over 30 national nursing organizations and 80 subject matter experts, the Commission has made significant strides. It aims to examine racism within nursing nationwide; describe the impact on nurses, patients, communities, and healthcare systems; and motivate all nurses to confront systemic racism.

To begin, the Commission defined racism as “assaults on the human spirit in the form of actions, biases, prejudices, and an ideology of superiority based on race that persistently cause moral suffering and physical harm of individuals and perpetuate systemic injustices and inequities.” The definition served to awaken nurses to the harms of racism in the profession and prompt them to dismantle it.

After laying the foundation for tackling racism in nursing head-on, the Commission conducted nationwide listening sessions and a national survey of over 5,600 nurses. A series of reports followed on how racism directly impacts nurses across the country. The Commission’s 2022 Foundational Report on Racism in Nursing outlines the historical and contemporary contexts of racism in nursing, as well as how racism shows up in nursing education, policy, practice, and research. The words and experiences of nurses of color and the data indicate the pervasiveness and harm of racism in nursing (bit.ly/3QnBwiD). These findings underscore the importance of addressing this challenge now.

To promote dialogue with the goal of affecting change on the front lines, the Commission created safe spaces for nurses to be heard and to engage in conversation about racism. To that end, the Commission’s Project ECHO® on Racism in Nursing conducted 16 sessions in 2022, with more than 600 nurses registered. Participants gathered for each 60- to 90-minute session for a presentation from a subject matter expert and to engage in dialogue with each other. Topics covered microaggressions and unconscious bias, racism and the nursing code of ethics, handling retaliation, and racism in academia and nursing practice. Many participants reported the sessions were the first opportunity they ever had to talk openly about racism in nursing. One attendee stated, “This series has given me the confidence and tools to start a conversation that is long overdue. Thank you.”

While progress has been made in the past 2 years, the work continues. In 2023 and 2024, the Commission aims to focus on addressing racism at two levels. The first involves continued engagement with nurses to understand the harm of racism on colleagues of color and patients. The second entails focusing on places where systemic racism persists and advocating for changes in organizations and policies.

ANA sincerely thanks the commissioners who have dedicated their time over the past 2 years to inspire, promote, and disseminate this important work and guide the Commission from its inception to today (bit.ly/3G6zGjx).

To learn more about the Commission ’s work, visit: bit.ly/3TGXugM.

Sarah Simons is the program manager for the Commission, Cheryl Peterson is the vice president of Nursing Programs at ANA and the co-staff lead for the Commission, and Ruth Francis is a senior policy advisor in the Nursing Practice & Work Environment department at ANA and co-staff lead for the Commission.

American Nurse Journal. 2023; 18(1). Doi: 10.51256/ANJ012329

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