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Many nurses deal with racism from patients, colleagues, and management


Too many in nursing deal with bias and discrimination in the course of their job. A recent survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation offers the latest evidence.

The vast majority of nurses say they've seen or experienced racial discrimination from patients, and more than half have endured racism and bias from colleagues, a recent survey finds. (Image credit: ©Drazen - stock.adobe.com)

The vast majority of nurses say they've seen or experienced racial discrimination from patients, and more than half have endured racism and bias from colleagues, a recent survey finds. (Image credit: ©Drazen - stock.adobe.com)

The vast majority of nurses have endured racism or some form of discrimination from patients, but a recent survey shows the bias and mistreatment comes from colleagues, and supervisors in some cases.

Nearly 8 in 10 nurses (79%) say they have seen or experienced racism and discrimination from patients, according to a recent survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Perhaps more disturbingly, almost 6 in 10 nurses say they’ve seen or suffered racism and discrimination from their colleagues.

The vast majority of nurses (89%) who have encountered or witnessed racism and discrimination say it has affected their well-being. The findings come at a time when many health organizations continue to see a shortage of nurses, and many say they are losing the love of nursing.

Black and Asian nurses are the most likely to encounter racism, the survey found. Among Black and African-American nurses, 88% have dealt with discrimination from patients, and almost three-quarters (72%) have encountered discrimination from co-workers. Among Asian nurses, 86% have dealt with racism from patients and 65% have endured it from colleagues.

The survey found 77% of Hispanic or Latino nurses have encountered racism and bias from patients, and 57% have endured racism from co-workers.

Some nurses report they are suffering racism or bias from management.

Four in 10 nurses (41%) said they experienced or witnessed racism from supervisors or nursing directors, while a quarter (26%) suffered bias from senior leaders or executives. Black nurses were the most likely to suffer racism from management, the survey found.

While some nurses share their frustrations in experiencing bias and racism, most don’t make a formal report to their organization.

Four in 10 nurses (40%) discuss racial discrimination with supervisors, but less than a quarter (23%) will file a formal report with management. Most nurses (57%) are more likely to speak with their fellow nurses, while only 16% will go to human resources.

Nurses in hospitals are more likely to deal with racism than nurses working in physicians’ offices or outpatient clinics, according to the survey.

The survey found that 84% of nurses in hospitals dealt with racism from patients, and 65% encountered racism from colleagues. By comparison, 74% of nurses in physicians’ offices or outpatient clinics dealt with racism from patients, and 54% had to deal with bias from co-workers.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey isn’t the first to indicate racism is a serious problem in nursing.

Last year, the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing found that most Black, Latino and Asian American nurses said they have personally experienced racism in the workplace.

Debra Toney, co-lead of the National Commission, told Chief Healthcare Executive® in a February 2022 interview that too many nurses deal with racial slurs, the lack of career advancement and micro-aggressions.

“I feel this is a national issue,” Toney said. “This encompasses all nurses. All nurses have a responsibility in cleaning up this profession.”

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said hospitals and healthcare organizations need to address racism and burnout, which is a factor creating more burnout.

Health systems can’t look the other way when it comes to bias from patients, Murthy said in his advisory. He pointed to the zero-tolerance policy at Massachusetts General Hospital, which calls for patients to be removed if they continually exhibit discriminatory behavior towards staff.

The American Nurses Association released a “Racial Reckoning Statement” last July acknowledging the organization’s role in perpetuating systemic racism in the past. The ANA also outlined steps to promote equity and inclusion within the organization and in the nursing profession as a whole.

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