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The National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing Reflects on Nurses’ Vast Contributions During Nurses Month

Shannon McClendon

WASHINGTON, DC - The National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing (the Commission), a leading coalition that examines the issue of racism within nursing, celebrates Nurses Month and the vast ways that nurses enrich our lives and society. As Nurses Month concludes with a focus on “Community Engagement,” the Commission joins in the commitment to support nurses, discuss current issues and partner with other organizations to foster inclusivity, diversity, and equity in the nursing profession.

For the nation’s nurses, 2020 was both “The Year of the Nurse” and a year of action. Nurses developed innovative solutions to deploy lifesaving treatments to COVID-19 patients, participated in clinical trials to contribute to COVID-19 vaccine development, advocated for their patients and social justice issues, and confronted longstanding health inequities exacerbated by the pandemic.

On behalf of the leading nursing organizations that represent the Commission, the American Nurses Association (ANA), National Black Nurses Association (NBNA), National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations (NCEMNA), and National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) commend all nurses for their dedication and selfless contributions in the face of unprecedented uncertainty.

American Nurses Association President Ernest J. Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN, reflects on nurses’ demonstrated resolve during this defining moment in history.

“We are all indebted to the millions of nurses who are risking their lives combating COVID-19 and the hundreds of nurses who have lost their lives to COVID-19 while caring for afflicted patients,” said Dr. Grant. “I urge everyone to honor nurses’ dedication by remaining steadfast in doing their part to combat COVID-19 – get vaccinated against COVID-19 and follow the guidance of credible public health officials. The nursing profession has undoubtedly been forever changed. However, what remains consistent through it all, is the professional standard, science, discovery, scholarship, advocacy, and rigor, all rooted in the Code of Ethics for Nurses which unites every nurse in prioritizing the health and safety of patients and communities. Historians will write of the turbulent year that was 2020, and nurses from all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds will be included in the volumes. Nurses demonstrated the integrity, ingenuity and intellect that is foundational to contemporary nursing practice to solidify their due spot on the right side of history. I have never been prouder to be a nurse.”

National Black Nurses Association President and CEO Martha A. Dawson, DNP, RN, FACHE, reinforces the many ways that nurses are serving the needs of all populations and molding the profession for future nurses.

“When I reflect on 2020 and the undisputable contributions of nurses, I am reminded of what it means to embody the spirit of “human caring”, which calls for us to serve the needs of all populations no matter where they live, worship, work and play, or the color of their skin,” said Dr. Dawson. “Nurses did not elect to be soldiers or heroes, they simply answered the call and responded courageously, risking their own lives and the safety of their loved ones to advocate for safe patient care, educate the public, and protect our communities from this persistent pandemic. We are witnessing the evolution of the nursing profession at the intersection of overdue and delayed action to address racism, political and social determinants of health, and health inequities. For these reasons, it is imperative that nurses welcome this shift, so that the next generation of nurses can carry the torch boldly, activating sustainable changes in our health care systems, workplaces, educational institutions, communities, and the profession."

Dr. Dawson also acknowledged the National Academy of Medicine’s recent release of The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity report.

“The report states that “nurse leaders have a responsibility to address structural racism, cultural racism, and discrimination based on identity, place, and circumstances within the nursing profession and to help build structures and systems at the societal level that address these issues to promote health equity. This clearly aligns with and supports the work that this Commission has submitted to as a call-to-action for the nursing profession,” said Dr. Dawson.

The National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations President Debra A. Toney, PhD, RN, FAAN, reiterates nurses’ critical role in addressing social determinants of health.

“Nurses have always been deserving of the abundant acknowledgement and real-time recognition that has been bestowed on the nursing profession over the past year. For all that nurses have sacrificed to during the COVID-19 pandemic, we owe them gratitude and a reaffirmed commitment to doing our individual and collective parts to protect the health of our communities,” said Dr. Toney. “COVID-19 has exposed the deep-seated disparities in health care and the social injustices in our society that are dismissed but continue to exacerbate social determinants of health impacting communities of color. There is no turning back, and this is a moment of truth for the public and nurses. I call on nurses to embrace their critical role as advocates for accessible care, mentors for future nurses, innovators of equitable models of care, and allies to all the patients that we are ethically obligated to serve. Our profession is primed to take action and to be a driving force of change.”

National Association of Hispanic Nurses Policy and Advocacy Committee Member Daniela Vargas, MSN, MPH, MA-Bioethics, RN, PHN, reflects on nurses’ strides in influencing collective change and addressing social injustices.

“Nurses of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, representing diverse practices and working across all care settings have shown our undeniable role in the health care system during the Year of Nurse and Midwife and the COVID-19 pandemic. As nurses, we have an ethical responsibility to the diverse communities that we serve by promoting health equity especially as we continue to advocate for access and resources as a form of racial and social justice,” said Daniela. “We honor the nursing profession by exemplifying ethical principles foundational to nursing practice while responding to COVID-19 and the structural racism in our health care system that disproportionately affects communities of color. The COVID-19 pandemic has showed the nurses that we must address structural racism, especially policies that have anti-Black and anti-Indigenous histories. This past year proved to be a year of action for nurses across the nation and we must continue the momentum to bravely forge change that goes beyond performative activism and empty words. As nurses, we must answer the call to confront racist actions and policies within the nursing profession and across all aspects of society, which must be acknowledged to do the work that lies ahead of us to make the structural changes that are necessary for the future of nursing. I firmly believe that the breadth of the nursing profession holds all nurses accountable for calling out racism and dismantling racist policies rooted in white supremacy to replace them with ethical and just policies that promote racial equity. The sheer power of nurses can promote and deliberately create an antiracist praxis for the nursing profession and America’s health care system.”

Since its inception in January of 2021, the Commission has been intentional and bold in leading a national discussion to address racism in nursing to create safe and liberating environments as well as an antiracist profession for all nurses. The Commission has convened listening sessions to explore the experiences of nurses of color to understand the impact of systemic racism. Four key workgroups are working to contribute to an action-oriented approach across the spectrum of education, practice, policy, and research. Later this year, the Commission will host a virtual summit focused on activism, publish an issue brief, and release a set of priority recommendations to address racism in nursing.

The Commission meets monthly to explore the issues of systemic racism within nursing through varied insights and perspectives to include subject matter experts and scholars on the issue. Learn more about the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing.


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.

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