Racism in health care negatively impacts not just individuals, but entire institutions, and it must be combatted on a systemic level.
That was the central message of the keynote address delivered by Kechi Iheduru-Anderson, DNP, RN, CNE, CWCN, during the Nurses Day 2022 Conference held on Zoom on May 6.
She is the nursing program director at The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions at Central Michigan University.
Entitled “Promoting Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence in Nursing and Health Care,” Iheduru-Anderson first grounded her audience by defining the concepts at the heart of her work: diversity, equity, inclusion, explicit and implicit biases, and the three types of racism—institutionalized, personally mediated, and internalized.
Then she asked rhetorically whether racism exists in nursing, pointing to a national survey that answered emphatically “yes.”
Some 92% of Black nurses said they have personally experienced racism in the workplace, with 70% from their leaders, 66% from their peers, and 68% from patients.
The survey was conducted by the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing, a multi-organizational collaborative of leading nursing organizations.
What Racism Looks Like in Health Care
How do nurses and health care workers experience racism? Iheduru-Anderson enumerated multiple ways, including:
- Racist jokes, even when those jokes are followed by an apology
- Inequitable work assignments
- Lack of advancement
- Assignment to less desirable shifts
- Dissuasion from pursuing higher-level positions
- Lack of acknowledgement of people’s credentials within their roles
- Perpetuation of stereotypes or presumption of incompetence because of a person’s racial identification
She asked the audience how they’ve seen racism manifested in their workplaces, and the answers ranged from lack of advancement to racist comments made by staff at the nurses’ station to employee resignations.
One person witnessed a patient saying to a colleague “you’re a little Black thing, aren’t you?” and another said a patient mistook her for a housekeeper.