Nursing organizations step up to address racism and its consequences

By | 2020-07-01T10:20:01-04:00 June 29th, 2020|12 Comments

Racism and its effects on the health and well-being of the American people has now elicited a direct response from nursing organizations.

Ernest Grant, RN

Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN, president of the American Nurses Association, was appalled when he watched the video of a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, which ultimately led to Floyd’s death, a citizen the officer was sworn to protect.

Grant knew the tragedy demanded a response from the nation’s largest nursing organization.

“In my statement to our membership, I explained that we have a code of ethics that obligates nurses to be allies and speak up against racism and social injustice,” Grant said. “Whenever we see racism, we must call it out, even if it is occurring among colleagues. To remain silent is just as problematic as promoting racism.”

Numerous nursing organizations have responded to Floyd’s death by issuing statements, offering virtual discussions to increase awareness about racism and supporting peaceful protests.

As protests have erupted across the nation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the ANA educated the public about the importance of wearing masks and practicing social distancing during the events.

“We are using the public’s trust of nurses to let people know that we care about their health and their concerns about social injustice,” Grant said.

The Black Lives Matter movement

A recent survey from Civiqs showed support for the Black Lives Matter movement has increased significantly as a result of the George Floyd incident, and now a narrow majority (51%) of American voters are in favor of the cause.

While some have reacted to the movement by responding that “All Lives Matter,” Grant said the phrase seems to be exclusive of black lives. “Until people understand the turmoil Black people have experienced, All Lives Matter misses the mark,” he said.

Grant experienced racism personally when he said he was overlooked for job promotions despite the fact that he was qualified or more qualified than other candidates, and when patients did not want him as a nurse because he was Black.


Mawata Kamara, RN (right), with members of National Nurses United at a rally.

The racism Floyd endured is also reminiscent of an incident in the life of ED nurse Mawata Kamara, RN, a member of National Nurses United, which issued a statement in June. In 2008, Kamara was arrested and booked in jail in Hayward, Calif., because police said she did not pull over when they asked her to stop.

“I had stopped, and they gave me no explanation about why I’d been pulled over,” said Kamara, who had been on her way home from the night shift in the ED at San Leandro Hospital. “They asked me to get on my knees outside the car and put on handcuffs, and I was shaking throughout the ordeal,” Kamara said.

She was released nine hours later with the explanation that the officers had checked her record and she was clear.

Experiences of racism like this have led Black people to distrust not only police, but also healthcare providers, Kamara said.

In the ED, she has treated Black patients who appeared non-compliant, but the source of this behavior may be distrust. She recently cared for a Black patient who was rejecting medication suggested by a physician. Kamara asked the woman why she did not want to take the medication.

“She said that when people don’t have insurance, doctors do not care and want to get rid of the patient as quickly as possible,” said Kamara, who explained that she did not care how the patient paid and was there to take care of her.

Research also suggests racism affects decisions made by providers. According to a recent study highlighted in the New England Journal of Medicine, white patients typically had better access to specialized care compared to other racial groups at Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Department of Medicine in Boston.

Jean Ross, RN

Access to healthcare, healthy food, safe drinking water and other social determinants of health also can be more limited for people of color, and nurse leaders hope the recent protests will lead to changes in communities.

“We have known for a long time that racism affects health, and the George Floyd situation and the higher incidence of COVID-19 in minority communities have brought this issue to the world’s attention,” said Jean Ross, BSN, RN, president of National Nurses United.

Initiating conversations, promoting change

Although tackling racism might seem like a daunting undertaking, Blake K. Smith, MSN, RN, president of the American Association for Men in Nursing, believes nurses are well-practiced in the art of leading discussions about sensitive topics.

“Nurses have difficult conversations frequently with patients, and we are experts when it comes to listening,” he said.

Blake Smith, RN

After the Floyd incident, Smith reached out to colleagues of color and asked how they were doing. “I wanted to provide a context where they could express their feelings, vent and confide in me so I could understand better,” said Smith, a clinical documentation senior analyst. “They are upset.”

When he encounters racism, he sees it as an opportunity to speak up. One time he was in a patient’s room with a Black colleague who was the primary nurse, and the patient asked Smith to answer a question rather than the Black nurse.

“I explained to the patient that this was a great question for the amazing nurse who was taking care of him,” Smith said.

AAMN also has started facilitating conversations between nurses and the public, such as a recent Facebook live meeting about how the social determinants of health that impact men relate to racism and discrimination.

Smith also plans to continue AAMN’s efforts to increase awareness about the dangers of toxic masculinity.

“We need to understand why men are less likely than women to access healthcare and more likely to internalize their feelings and then express anger,” he said. “This can potentially lead to violent acts and even suicide.”

Grant encourages nurses to use their voting power to instigate change.

“Vote for political candidates who have a proven track record of addressing racism,” he said. “And educate colleagues and the community about these candidates.”

Nurses also can host webinars or other events that allow leaders of color to share their stories and goals for change.

Peaceful protests

Martha Dawson, RN

Members of the National Black Nurses Association are taking action by organizing peaceful protests, including one in Huntsville, Ala., led by member Frederick Richardson, RN, who works in the ED at Madison Hospital in Alabama. He invited the city’s mayor and representatives from faith-based organizations and the police department to attend.

NBNA president Martha Dawson, DNP, RN, FACHE, spoke publicly at the event about strategies to decrease racism. “In nursing, the Joint Commission ensures hospitals meet certain standards, and we could have something similar for the police,” she said. “Hospitals also get reimbursed based on the quality of care, and why not try something like this in police departments?”

Dawson said it is critical for nurses to partner with allies throughout the community to effectively develop strategies that will alter the status quo.

“The problem is racism, and it is in every institution — not just the police,” she said. “Are we willing to agree that change is necessary and work together to create new systems that will lead to change?”

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About the Author:

Heather Stringer
Heather Stringer is a health and science freelance writer based in San Jose, Calif. She has 20 years of writing experience and her work has appeared in publications such as Scientific American, Discover, Proto, Cure, Women and the Monitor on Psychology.


  1. Avatar
    Esther July 1, 2020 at 4:25 am - Reply

    Very well written I appreciated your work

  2. Avatar
    Glennae Davis July 4, 2020 at 10:48 pm - Reply

    Hi Heather, thanks for article. Very insightful.

    I want to add my two cents and offer my help if you hear of the need. As a registered nurse, I know that the healthcare system is without the system to prevent disease. Chronic job stress, institutional racism and non-compliance to on-the-job anti-discrimination policies are top causes of health disparities. African Americans suffer loss at a higher rate. Workplace healthcare education could reduce disease for our nation’s workforce.

    I know that you are interested in doing your part to close the gaps. I would love to send you a free copy of my latest release Bias and Burnout. Please reply by July 10th, 2020 for a free digital copy.

    • Sallie Jimenez
      Sallie Jimenez July 7, 2020 at 11:40 am - Reply

      Hello Glennae,

      Thank you for your comments. Feel free to send your report to me at [email protected].

  3. Avatar
    Karen E Peterson July 11, 2020 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    Really? I was educated in a system that color or race was not identified or an issue. Just because some thugs in different states feel that they need to dismantle and objectify the white people we are now prisoners to their form of insurrection. I am mortified that the nursing profession feels that we are the problem in the BLM issue. That’s what you are saying Ms Dawson. Have you worked in the trenches? Don’t think so. We nurses treat people as individuals and not colors. Get over yourself and visit the local hospitals and then your eyes will be open. Please tell Mr Ernest Grant RN that nursing has nothing to do with George Floyd. We didn’t kneel on his neck, we would have done BLS on him if he was not breathing!
    I truly feel that nursing does not need these pompous individuals to treat we nurses as imbeciles. Volunteer your services to the Covid crisis instead of yapping about stupid stuff!!!

  4. Avatar
    Dalene DeGraaf July 12, 2020 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    I would appreciate CEU’s to address the above topic.

  5. Avatar
    Halami July 12, 2020 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    So only Black lives matter? How about the UNBORN, the elderly, Asians, Etc? Until we realize that this movement is being driven by far left Anarchists and Antifas who are influenced by George Soros and his ilk nothing good will happen.

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    Libby Thompson July 13, 2020 at 9:58 am - Reply

    I do not appreciate this information and requesting to unsubscribe . I do not wish to associate with the hate group BLM. I am sorry that this was a topic of choice for the sake of “we addressed the issues”.

  7. Avatar
    Christiane Hilker July 13, 2020 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Thank you. I would like to include discrimination based on gender and marital status.
    Very helpful to think about and feel supported in.

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    Brooke July 16, 2020 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Your informational statistic on increased support of the founded Marxists group Black Lives Matter is the only place where I get hackles. The rest of your article seems helpful, fair, and unbiased. By stating the increased interest in only this one organization seems to give it greater support and what might seem favour. I am against Marxcism and further social/government unrest which I feel is the underlying intent of that organization beyond the cover of the justified agenda to cease racism and its injustice.

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    Meredith July 21, 2020 at 10:39 am - Reply

    Just putting my support out there for your endeavor. Obviously, we are all (well, most are) in nursing to help people. There are many, many platforms for many, many issues. It’s obvious there are fires all over. Thanks for picking this one to focus on. The effect of systemic racism, is, well…deeply systemic, with far-reaching ripples. Carry on!!

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    JW July 28, 2020 at 3:18 am - Reply

    Sad, I have worked as a Nurse for almost 30 years now and NEVER knew there was a National Black Nurses Association. I have encountered racism during the time I went through nursing school. Had to relocate and go to a different nursing school before I made it and graduated from Nursing School. I had encountered racism in my nursing jobs, mostly from white female Director of Nursing and some Managers/Supervisors. Recently, my job was taken from me, a job I worked in for several years, for no reasons given to me by this Director of Nursing, as always had good evaluations, and she put my job up for Bid and gave it to a white male nurse, put me on a harder admission unit where I was injured and had to have major surgery , on my shoulder as my rotator cuff was torn on the unit she forced me to be on. Now my work situation for me has changed. I must say I had better luck when nurses in management were males instead of some evil racist females. I have found that if a black nurse became a Manager, some were definitely not supportive of black female nurses. They would “throw you under the bus” instead of taking a stand and make positive attempts to stop racist movements on the job. Black Nurse Managers were just as bad as some of the white nurses in management.

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    DK September 18, 2020 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    THANK YOU JW! There is so much racism in the nursing field. Whenever it’s mentioned the white (Karen) nurses get riled up that it’s even being discussed. Recently I found out that I wasn’t considered for a position I applied to because the recruiter never forwarded my application to the hiring manager. But, she had no problem with forwarding the applications of less qualified white candidates, one of which I know was fired from their previous job. NICE! Sometimes I get really disheartened for having to work twice as hard as my white colleagues. I am thinking about going to medical school because I know racism won’t be as big of an issue considering there are so many ethnic doctors.

    The major problem with the nursing field is that it’s overrun by hateful white women who resent that brown and black people are coming into the field, and actively try to prevent their advancement. I really wish someone would report on this subject. Oh the stories I could tell!

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