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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

59% of Nurses Report Experiencing or Witnessing Racism and Discrimination in the Workplace

Stress nurse

By Jill Drachenberg, Editor, Relias Media

For years, nurses have faced incidents of violence and harassment from patients, including racist comments. But what is less understood is nurses also have dealt with racism, discrimination, and microaggressions from their own colleagues.

The results of a recent survey from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation indicate 59% of nurses have seen or experienced racism or discrimination from colleagues. Seventy-nine percent of Black nurses and 65% of Asian nurses have experienced racism. Racism was most often reported in hospitals and nursing homes than in physician offices or private practice. Black nurses were more likely than nurses of other races to experience harassment from colleagues, be called slurs or insulted, experience humiliation in front of colleagues, or receive threats due to their race. Asian and Black nurses also were the most likely to witness or be treated with distrust of lack of courtesy.

Moreover, only 23% of nurses who experienced racism filed formal reports, believing nothing will be done to correct the behavior. Instead, most (57%) discuss the incidents with fellow nurses.

Other survey results include:

  • Nine out of 10 nurses who experienced racism and discrimination report it has negatively affected their mental health;
  • Of those who reported incidents of racism, only four in 10 were satisfied with the response;
  • While most nurses say their organizations are making diversity and inclusion a priority, less emphasis is placed on diversity in leadership teams;
  • 68% of nurses said additional training on diversity, equity, and inclusion is needed in their workplaces;
  • Four out of 10 nurses believed racism and discrimination were part of the culture in their nursing schools.

Most nurses interviewed for the survey believed structural racism exists in healthcare, but definitions and examples differed. “Some describe issues with access to the healthcare system, including language barriers. Others note differences between the racial makeup of nurses and other providers compared to the population they serve,” the report authors noted. “Some refer to generational and/or racial assumptions made by healthcare providers. One interviewee said it was about vaccine uptake or distrust.”

Nurses avoid reporting incidents because they do not trust the process or there are few options for reporting. “Many say that human resources and administration — and sometimes their unions — are of little help,” the report authors wrote. “Instead, they avoid traditional channels and turn to trusted colleagues or nurse managers to share frustrations, or they say nothing to others at work.”

Much more on employee health and well-being can be found in upcoming issues of Hospital Employee Health.