Racism Reported by Nurses, Physicians
‘This has caused stress, anxiety, and some depression’
Are nurses and physicians of color at your facility at risk of occupational racism? Employee health professionals should be aware nurses and physicians in two recent reports cited racial incidents that negatively affected their work and emotional wellness.
The results of a nationwide survey conducted by the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing revealed three out of four respondents said they had witnessed racism in the workplace.1 Personal experience with occupational racism was reported by nurses of the following races and ethnicities:
- Black: 92%;
- Asian: 73%;
- Hispanic: 69%;
- White: 28%.
Overall, 63% of respondents reported personally experiencing an act of racism in the workplace. Transgressors were peers (66%), patients, (63%), or a manager or supervisor (60%).
“I have been called the n-word by multiple patients on multiple occasions,” one nurse commented. “I have been called ‘colored’ by a nurse manager.”
Another surveyed nurse said, “I have felt as if there was no way I would advance my career at some facilities due to my race. This has caused stress, anxiety, and some depression.”
Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they have challenged racism in the workplace, but more than half of those said their efforts did not bring any change. “Speaking truth to power takes courage,” a nurse commented. “I have been ostracized for my advocacy and passed over for promotions.”
Nevertheless, the commission urged nurses to call out racism, reminding them of their Code of Ethics for Nurses obligations to be allies and speak up against racism, discrimination, and injustice.
“Racism has absolutely no place in the nursing profession,” the commission noted. “All nurses must boldly confront individual and systemic racism in the profession.”
The commission’s definition of racism includes a phrase that speaks volumes: “Assaults the human spirit.”
It is not just nurses. Physicians of color report similar incidents, although with less frequency, according to a report by the American Medical Association (AMA).2 Overall, 20% of Black physicians reported they were sometimes treated with less dignity and respect due to their race or ethnicity. One in 10 physicians from historically marginalized racial or ethnic groups indicated they were sometimes called insulting names related to their race, ethnicity, or skin color at work.
Since the onset of the pandemic, 18% of physicians of color reported more incidents in which they were treated with less dignity and respect by their patients due to their race.
The pandemic has exacerbated physician burnout, causing “heightened psychological, financial, and physical stress,” the AMA noted.
- American Nurses Association. Survey shows substantial racism in nursing. Jan. 25, 2022.
- American Medical Association. Summary report: Experiences of racially and ethnically minoritized and marginalized physicians in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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