NEW SURVEY DATA: Racism Within the Nursing Profession is a Substantial Problem
SILVER SPRING, MD - According to the findings of a new, national survey of nurses by the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing (the Commission), nearly half reported that there is widespread racism in nursing, demonstrating a substantial problem within the profession. Comprised of leading nursing organizations, the Commission examines the issue of racism within nursing nationwide and describes the impact on nurses, patients, communities, and health care systems to motivate all nurses to confront systemic racism. Integrity calls on the profession and nurses to reflect on two realities, one as the most trusted profession while also being a product of our environment and culture. It is necessary to work toward connecting these two realities.
“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 this important work justice. Racism and those individuals who do not commit to changing their ways but continue to commit racist acts have absolutely no place in the nursing profession.”
According to more than 5,600 survey respondents, racist acts are principally perpetrated by colleagues and those in positions of power. Over half (63%) of nurses surveyed say that they have personally experienced an act of racism in the workplace with the transgressors being either a peer (66%) or a manager or supervisor (60%).
Superiority continues to surface as a primary driver from nurses representing predominantly white groups along with nurses who are advantaged and privileged by unfair structural and systemic practices. These survey 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 (NBNA) 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 racists attitudes, actions, behaviors, and processes. Leaders must also create a climate that gives permission and support to dismantle institutional policies and procedures that underpin practice inequities and inequalities.”
Of those nurses who report that they have witnessed an act of racism in the workplace, 81% say it was directed towards a peer. Nurses say that they have challenged racist treatment in the workplace (57%), but over half (64%) said that their efforts resulted in no change.
“Nurses are ethically and professionally obligated to be allies and to speak up against racism, discrimination, and injustice for our patients and fellow nurses,” said Commission Co-Lead and National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations (NCEMNA) President Debra A. Toney, PhD, RN, FAAN. “Civil rights and social movements throughout history offer the blueprint, which demonstrates that diligent allyship is key to progress. To the nurses that challenge racism in the workplace, do not get dismayed by inaction, but continue to raise your voice and be a change agent for good.”
Many respondents across the Hispanic (69%) and Asian (73%) populations as well as other communities of color (74%) reported that they have personally experienced racism in the workplace. Overwhelmingly, the survey findings indicate that Black nurses are more likely to both personally experience and confront acts of racism. Most Black nurses who responded (72%) say that there is a lot of racism in nursing compared to 29% of white nurse respondents. The majority (92%) of Black respondents have personally experienced racism in the workplace from their leaders (70%), peers (66%) and the patients in their care (68%). Over three-fourths of Black nurses surveyed expressed that racism in the workplace has negatively impacted their professional well-being.
“The acts of exclusion, incivility, disrespect and denial of professional opportunities that our nurses have reported through this survey, especially our Black, Hispanic and Asian nurses, is unacceptable,” said Commission Co-lead and National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) President Adrianna Nava, PhD, MPA, MSN, RN. “Racism is a trauma that leaves a lasting impact on a person’s mental, spiritual, and physical health as well as their overall quality of life. As the largest health care workforce in the country, we must come together to address racism in nursing as the health of our nation depends on the health and well-being of our nurses.”
Since its inception in January of 2021, the Commission has been intentional and bold in leading a national discussion to address racism in nursing. The Commission has convened listening sessions with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) nurses and hosted a virtual summit focused on activism with foremost subject matter experts. Collaborating with top scholars on the issue, the Commission developed a new definition of racism to establish a baseline for holding conversations, reflecting on individual or collective behaviors, and setting a foundation for the work ahead.
“The collective voices and experiences of BIPOC nurses nationally have provided a call for overdue accountability within the nursing profession to acknowledge and address the structural racism rooted within nursing, especially policies that have anti-Black and anti-Indigenous histories,” said Commission Co-lead and Member-at-Large Daniela Vargas, MSN, MPH, MA-Bioethics, RN, PHN. “The next generation of BIPOC nurses deserve more than performative activism and empty words that continue to yield no progress toward structural changes within the nursing profession or racial equity. The breadth of the nursing profession through the Code of Ethics for Nurses holds all nurses accountable for calling out racism and replacing racist policies rooted in white supremacy with ethical and just policies that promote and implement accountability, equity, and justice for nurses and the communities that we serve.”
Nursing’s challenges with the issue of racism are reflective of the larger society. As a profession, we need to confront these same challenges with racial inequities within the profession. As such, the Commission’s work is urgent to create safe and liberating environments for all nurses so that the profession exemplifies inclusivity, diversity, and equity. The Commission urges all nurses across every health care setting and environment to join us in boldly confronting systemic racism. We must address upstream sources of racism in order to build sustained safe and effective environments of optimal care delivery ideal for every nurse and every patient regardless of race, origin or background. Nurses can learn more and share a story of experiencing racism or being an ally for change today.
*Data was collected through a survey administered by the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing Between October 7-31, 2021, 5,623 nurses completed this survey. *
About the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing
The National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing (the Commission) examines the persistent problem of racism within nursing and describes the impact on nurses, patients, communities, and health care systems to motivate all nurses to confront systemic racism. The work is urgent to create safe and liberating environments for all nurses as well as profession that exemplifies inclusivity, diversity, and equity. The Commission is comprised of leading nursing organizations that represent a broad continuum of nursing practice, ethnically diverse groups, nationally and in regions across the country and who have for years raised their individual voices to condemn all forms of racism within our society.