“When we bleed, no matter your race, creed, or religion, the color is red. The anatomy of the body is structurally indifferent. It is the genetic complexion and beliefs that derives hatred and division that results in racism, and it is prevalent in the nursing profession.”
-The Only Nurse Mona
Racism in nursing: can it really exist? According to an article published in 2019 by The Nursing Times, “High levels of racial discrimination faced by nurses [are] revealed.” The article states, “A shocking two-thirds of nurses have observed racial discrimination or disadvantage that affected someone else in the last 12 months, and nearly half have been the target of it themselves.” The study revealed that 63% of participants had observed racial discrimination affecting someone other than themselves in the last 12 months. In total, 40% of the cases involved racist behavior by a patient or member of the public.”
It seemed as it was almost yesterday that I signed the contract for my first travel nurse assignment. I was a newbie to the travel nurse experience and very excited to depart to Northern California. On the 8-hour drive from Southern California to Sacramento by way of Interstate 5, the intrigue and zeal for meeting new experiences brought a new dimension to working as a registered nurse.
My first impression of this small remote hospital to which I was assigned gave me a feeling of being placed back in the 1970s when the show Marcus Welby, MD originated and that I watched faithfully. There were IV solutions still prepared in bottles – something that I had never witnessed before. The nursing staff that greeted me seemed nice; they were not that engaging but never rude or disrespectful.
The year was 2013, and Beyonce was performing the half-time show for Super Bowl XLVII. I was feeling a bit gloomy because I had to work instead of enjoying the festivities of friends, food, and family. As I became more aware of the hospital, I noticed that 100% of the patients were Caucasian and elderly. In fact, I would say that 90% were DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) status. It became apparent that I was working with an exclusive demographic that I had never experienced.
The start of this shift was typical of any beginning. Cheerful and professional, I presented myself to my first patient of the evening. After conversing a few minutes with this kind gentleman, I was hit with a statement that I thought I would never hear, especially in 2013. “You are a pretty colored gal; I have never seen a pretty colored gal before, and you are the nurse?” Should I be shocked or flattered with this revelation? Was this racism at its finest or just someone ignorant to the impact of the statement? The night progressed accordingly, and our conversations grew as we talked about many subjects. I learned a lot about his experiences with life while never focusing on the need to revisit the initial conversation. Despite the initial comment, we ended the shift on a positive note, and he thanked me for being his nurse.
As the night progressed and during Beyonce’s performance, another startling statement came about as I overheard a group of visitors deem Beyonce as a black (Nigger) “hoe.” I was in shock! Not only was the statement insulting, but as I entered the room, I was greeted with a cordial smile and hello as I introduced myself as the nurse for the evening. It was quite a surprise that this family did not ask for another nurse that evening. As a professional, what do I say or do when I know that my performance will be judged critically because I am a dark-skinned nurse in a biased community? Should I confront the issue? Should I ask to be reassigned? Should I tell them that the statement offended me as a black woman, nurse, and fan?
How can nurses remain professional when racism is the center of care? Here are 7 tips for evacuating “Code Racism” in the nursing profession:
- Shine your light: Maintain professionalism and treat each patient the same no matter how they feel about you. It is human nature that if you are bleeding and someone stops the bleeding, you won’t say, “Stop helping me; I want someone of another race.”
- Ask to be reassigned: It is perfectly within your right to ask to be reassigned if you feel that you are in a compromising position and that you are in jeopardy of having a negative patient to nurse relationship.
- Get to know your patient and let them get to know you: Prejudice and racism often exist because of lack of knowledge and what was taught during childhood.
- Educate yourself about racism: Racism comes in all forms. Nurses must evaluate self-biases and leave those ideals outside of the workplace.
- Envision patients that are different as though you are treating a family member: You will find that families have the same attitudes and wishes about the treatment and care of their family as you do.
- Research your doctors that you work with and know who you are working with. Create conversations that allow your peers to know who you are and what you stand for.
- Advocate for patients that are getting less than optimal treatment. One of our main duties as nurses is advocacy. We must look at all patients as humans first and ensure that every human receives the best possible treatment.
Racial challenges can be one of the most difficult scenarios during times of performance as a nurse because we must put aside all bias, stereotypes, and judgements that we may have against someone of a different race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious belief. As patients, how can we know that the medical provider that is treating us knows that everyone is human and that we are not being examined based on skin tone or being different? This scenario must be addressed, and it stems from self-evaluation. When nurses and health professionals take the oath to save lives, this is our duty regardless of how we feel or if we are offended by racism.
How can we change tomorrow for today? I would love to hear your feedback on this subject matter. Follow me on Facebook and IG @The Only Nurse Mona!
Mona Clayton, MSN, RN ,(The Only Nurse Mona, http://www.theonlynursemona.com) is an author, mentor, motivational speaker, and transformational coach. She is also the CEO of the Nurses Pub Foundation (http://www.thenursespub.org), a non-profit organization with a mission to inspire, empower, and develop a global community of future nurses.