American Nurses Association apologizes for its role in ‘systemic racism’

The group, which represents more than 4 million nurses, issued a statement of reconciliation and acknowledged it has failed to support nurses of color.

The American Nurses Association is apologizing for perpetuating “systemic racism" and vowed to promote more equality and inclusion in the nursing profession.

The group issued a “Racial Reckoning Statement” Friday. The association, which represents 4.3 million nurses, says the statement serves as an apology to nurses of color and organizations representing nurses belonging to ethnic minority groups. The group also outlined steps to be more inclusive.

“As leaders of ANA, we apologize for the named and the unaccounted-for harms,” the association said in the statement. “Our past actions have caused irreparable physiological, psychological and socioeconomic harm, not only to nurses of color but to all patients, families and communities that depend on ANA as the national leader of the nursing profession.”

The statement outlines acts of omission and commission. It coincides with efforts by the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing.

The commission released a report earlier this year indicates that many nurses continue to experience racism. Nearly 2 in 3 nurses (63%) said they have experienced an act of racism in the workplace, either from peers (66%) or a manager (60%), the report found.

More than half (57%) said they challenged racist treatment in the workplace, but 64% said it made no difference.

The ANA pledged a number of steps to bring about change, including working with the national commission to “create antiracist practices and environments.” Other steps include:

  • Engaging in a program of diversity, equity and inclusion within the ANA, including its governance structure;
  • Promoting and complying with guidance on the reporting of race and ethnicity in professional journals and publications;
  • Openly disclosing the racial and ethnic makeup of the ANA’s board of directors;
  • Advocating for appropriate inclusion in textbooks and educational material.

The ANA’s Board also outlined additional steps, including a commitment to apologize and confront “past harms” as they are disclosed. The group said it would engage in direct reconciliation with nursing associations representing nurses from minority groups. And the board said it would include an analysis of diversity, equity and inclusion in all policies.

The board also said it will begin an oral history project to recognize the contributions of nurses of color to the ANA and nursing.

Even though nursing regularly ranks at or near the top of the most trusted professions, many nurses have said they have encountered racism far too often.

Debra Toney, co-lead of the National Commission, told Chief Healthcare Executive in February that many were shocked by the report’s findings of widespread racism in nursing, but she said it was meant to be a wake-up call.

“We chose to be bold,” Toney said. “We chose to use the word racism. We chose to call it straight out like it is.” She also said it was “a national issue.”

The statement of reconciliation includes acknowledgements of specific instances where the ANA says it has failed nurses of color.

The association acknowledges that “from 1916 until 1964, ANA purposefully, systemically and systematically excluded Black nurses.”

Even in 1964, when no rules explicitly barred membership for nurses of color, “it was evident that exclusionary practices and a failure to represent all nurses remained,” the ANA said in its reconciliation statement.

The nurses association said it apologizes “to all nurses of color” for failing to support them as they advanced in nursing. “Having failed you, ANA also failed in supporting and caring for communities of color and other marginalized people,” the group said.

The ANA also apologizes to associations representing nurses from ethnic minority groups “that have ably represented the needs of their nurses and communities.”

“ANA only represented the needs of some nurses and some patients. Nurse leaders of color stepped into the breach,” the group said. “ANA’s failure to lead resulted in a fragmentation of the profession that contributed to a fragmentation in nursing care for minoritized communities.”

The ANA said it is on “a journey of reckoning and reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing. This journey will take some time, but it is one that ANA is fully committed to.”

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