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Do Black Nurses Have a Different Experience?

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SafetyNurse1968 has 20 years experience as a ADN, BSN, MSN, PhD and specializes in Oncology, Home Health, Patient Safety.

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Have You Experienced Racism as a Nurse?

In honor of George Floyd and countless other black Americans who have been murdered by the police, Safety Nurse (SN) is seeking out interviews with black nurses. I recently interviewed a nursing professor who works in the southwestern part of the US. Details have been changed to protect her identity.

Do Black Nurses Have a Different Experience?
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I reached out to Mary, an old college acquaintance, to ask if she would talk to me about her experiences as a black nurse. I was concerned that asking her to talk about her history might be triggering or an imposition and I wanted to honor her willingness to share with me, so I asked if I could make a donation in her honor. She asked that I make a donation to the Alzheimer's Association in honor of her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. I didn’t realize that June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. The more people know about Alzheimer's, the more action is inspired. In addition, I made a donation to The Bail Project™ National Revolving Bail Fund – “a critical tool to prevent incarceration and combat racial and economic disparities in the bail system.”

Black RNs

According to Minority Nurse, 9.9% of RNs are black or African American (non-Hispanic); 8.3% are Asian; 4.8% are Hispanic or Latino; 1.3% categorize themselves as two or more races; 0.4% are American Indian or Alaskan Native. There are 279,600 black RNs and 162,800 LPNs. Black or African American (non-Hispanic) nurses were more prevalent among the nurse population in the South Atlantic (9.5%), West South Central (8.8%), and East South Central (7.7%) areas than anywhere else. 14.6% of black or African-American nurses have related master’s or doctoral degrees, compared to 13.4% of white nurses.1

The profession of nursing shares a long and prestigious history of African-American nurses. Despite centuries of oppression and prejudice, Harriet Tubman, Mary Eliza Mahoney and Lillian Holland Harvey overcame adversity and fought to improve not only the lives of those around them, but the profession of nursing as a whole.2

Talking with Mary

Safety Nurse (SN): “What experiences have you had in your career as a nurse in which the color of your skin played a role?”

Mary: “Historically as a nurse working on the med surg unit, having older, white patients who assumed that if I was walking in the door with a white person, they would assume I was not the nurse, or that I was something less.” 

She went on to say, “It made me feel shocked and a little angered. I was quick to correct that. It didn’t make me sad, just shock and anger.” 

Growing Up with Different Races

Mary grew up in a small town in the Southwestern U.S. She started out at an all-black school, but then from the third through eighth grade she went to an all-white, private school. Then she ended up graduating from a mixed-race high school. 

Mary: “I’ve been in every type of situation.”

SN: “Where were you most comfortable?”

When Mary shared, “I felt safer from being bullied in the all-white school.” I was surprised. I would have thought the opposite would have been true, but she went on to explain, “As a black person with other black people I felt more comfortable at the all-black school, but being the black girl in a black neighborhood, my dad had a better job, he made more money, I was catholic, I had longer hair, guys liked to hang around with me, I was bullied by those of the same color. They were jealous.” I understood better. 

She did say that she dated a white boy for a while. “I couldn’t go to his home because his mom was racist. I was hurt by it. It left me wondering why?”

Mary attended a technical school to obtain an ADN and was an RN for five years before getting her BSN. She then went on to get an MSN in nursing leadership and management, and then she went on to obtain a post master’s nurse practitioner license. Now she’s in school for her doctorate. I joked that she and I have that much in common. We both love school!

SN “Why did you shift from the hospital to academia?”

Mary: “My thoughts when I worked in the hospital were to move up the chain of command, but no matter what I tried, charge nurse, CNE – it didn’t happen. I was on every committee, everyone thought I was the charge nurse, but I wasn’t.”

SN: “Do you think race played a role?”

Mary: “I don’t think it was race. I think it might be because I’m very honest. Sometimes that can be perceived as ‘the angry black woman’ I’ve always gotten in trouble for being honest.”

“Its’ hard for black people to know if someone doesn’t' like us because of personality or race? When we don’t get a job, either you weren’t qualified, or the person didn’t like you, but we have to add on the extra one of race.”

I was relieved when Mary told me she had never had any negative experiences with the police. She has two children, a teenaged daughter, and a son in his twenties and she said to her knowledge, neither of them has ever had a negative interaction with the police either.

SN: “What about at your university? Have you experienced racism there?”

Mary: “Going to some outside meetings, being on general education committees, it’s just a different atmosphere – being the only black person in those faculty meetings. Usually what you say isn’t as important as what your white counterparts say.”

SN: “How about in the nursing program?”

Mary: “Within our department – I feel very comfortable. Our dean is black, and our associate dean is black. Race is not an issue in our department. There was some shock when a black woman became the Dean. I don’t recall anyone being excited and I thought there should have been more excitement around that.” 

SN: “What about students? Do you feel there are any racial issues for your students?”

Mary: “The old dean, I heard she treated the black students differently, but I don’t know the specifics. Now, it isn’t a problem. There may be some hidden problems. Being the most diverse division in our university, I’m comfortable and pleased with what we have.”

SN: “How have things been for you since George Floyd was murdered; since the protests began? Are you okay?”

Mary: “I can count on one hand how many people who have been sensitive on social media, who have reached out to me. I’m hurt by the person that I hang with the most hasn’t reached out to check on me. Initially what pops in my head is just to have her tell me, ‘I’m here, I’m listening, I understand.’”

SN: “How have you felt since the protests started?”

Mary: “It’s something that needs to be done. I’m happy with some of the changes that people are trying to make. There is still just so much more that needs to be done. There’s a lot more dialogue that needs to happen with certain people.”

SN: “What do you think would make a difference at your school?”

Mary: “I think it would be neat to have a diversity round table about the issues to talk about what’s going on, something like where different races get to talk about their perspectives respectfully. As a nursing instructor, I sent an email to my students that with what is going on, to be safe and remember you are in school for a profession that cares and takes care of all people. Remain professional” 

SN: “Anything else you can think of?”

Mary: “What baffles me the most – I have a white friend who claims to be a Christian, she says she goes to church three times a week. She says she’s not racist, but she doesn’t want her daughter dating a black person. That’s hypocrisy, it contradicts what she’s saying. Admit what you are. The flat-out hatred and discrimination – I don’t understand it. How do you live like that?”

Racism in Nursing?

I had difficulty finding peer-reviewed research about racism in nursing. I know it exists, so I’ll keep looking and write up an article specifically on this topic. Until then ... I’d like to hear from you ...

Have you experienced racism as a nurse? If so, did it come from patients, coworkers or management?

Thank you in advance for being willing to share.

References

1. https://minoritynurse.com/nursing-statistics/
2. https://minoritynurse.com/making-history-black-nightingales/

Dr. Kristi Miller, aka Safety Nurse is an Assistant Professor of nursing at USC-Upstate and a Certified Professional in Patient Safety. She is also a mother of four who loves to write so much that she would probably starve if her phone didn’t remind her to take a break.  Her work experiences as a hospital nurse make it easy to skip using the bathroom to get in just a few more minutes on the computer. She is obsessed with patient safety. Please read her blog, Safety Rules! on allnurses.com. You can also get free Continuing Education at www.safetyfirstnursing.com. In the guise of Safety Nurse, she is sending a young Haitian woman to nursing school and you can learn more about that adventure: gf.me/u/xzs5sa

12 Followers; 63 Articles; 20,396 Profile Views; 396 Posts

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waufah has 13 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in ICU,Tele,Interventional Radiology,PACU,Research.

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I don't know where to start.I could write a book. I am black and an immigrant. I went to nursing school in the Midwest. In a class of forty students less than 5 were black but I don't recall any racist encounters until I started working. I applied to an ICU fellowship in my local hospital because I had worked in another department as I tech. In a group of five graduates I was the only black person and there was no black nurses in the unit. I didn't think much about it at that time. I experienced racism from patients several times where they would  outright say they didn't want me taking care of them and usually I would switch assignments or the charge nurse would take care of them!! I did file a complain with HR but no action was taken,so I left,the job and state together. I got into travel nursing things did improve in some states while not so much in others. I still experienced cases where I would tell patients I was their nurse but they would not believe anything I said until they verified with my white CNAs,funny enough when they needed their pain med I qualified to be their nurse. When I got married and took my husband's last name,which sounded American and  white,I did start to get more job interviews with my agencies and from HR recruiters. As you are aware in agency nursing the employer did not interview you half the time,they just reviewed your resume.  I have shown up for assignments and been told outright they didn't expect me to be black because of my surname while in some places it took me saving a life for them to believe I was actually a competent  ICU or radiology nurse. The list of examples is endless.I cried when I saw what happened to George Floyd. It brought back painful memories of the racist encounters as a nurse.This  kind of environment and other horrible personal experiences made me pack my bags and leave America,it has been three years and I haven't looked back.

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I’m a white nurse and take shifts in a nursing home where the clientele is mostly white, and I’ve noticed the residents assume that anybody Black is an aide, and Black male nurses just really confuse them .

But if the resident tries to make prejudiced remarks to me, I “play dumb”, (like I don’t know they’re being prejudiced), and say something like “Isn’t it nice that we go through life and get to meet lots of different people?”

That usually shuts them up.

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BSNbeDONE has 34 years experience as a ASN, BSN, LPN, RN and specializes in Med/Surg, LTACH, LTC, Home Health.

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Back in the day of my first nursing program, I was paired with a white student during clinicals. My uniform was a starched, crispy white glow from collar to shoe. Coming from a military family, my dad wouldn’t have it any other way. Everything and I mean EVERYTHING had to have creases in it. No matter how ‘perfect’ I looked, the white student always received the better grade for the entire duration of the program...even though her shoes never saw one layer of polish, and her uniform was always off-white.

We didn’t dare question the instructor about this. We took our concerns to the secretary (also white, but was just a dear!), and she told us that the instructor wanted to “see how those types held up under constructive criticism”.

That was my first encounter with how the ‘real world’ viewed us.

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I've witnessed it and seen it.  It is not just against black healthcare workers.  Where I live there are a lot of Filipino nurses and they sometimes get the "let me talk to someone who knows how to speak English" even though they have an American accent.  Typically it is the darker/older Filipino in my opinion who get that.

I was told by a patient to "get my monkey _ _ _ " out of his room because he wanted me take his BP while his arm was raised over his head.  

That patient was black, by the way.

Out right blunt racism is dying, but I do believe that hidden racism is out more.

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7 hours ago, waufah said:

. I still experienced cases where I would tell patients I was their nurse but they would not believe anything I said until they verified with my white CNAs,funny enough when they needed their pain med I qualified to be their nurse.

That could be because. it is sometimes the CNA who the patients sees and encounters most often.  Sometimes the patient only sees the RN when meds have to administered.  So don't be surprised if the patient has no confidence with the nurse.

Sure RNs are busy, but from the patient perspective, that is irrelevant.  Think about it, that was not an issue on the ICU floors or IMC where there is no CNA.

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waufah has 13 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in ICU,Tele,Interventional Radiology,PACU,Research.

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On 6/30/2020 at 1:50 AM, DesiDani said:

That could be because. it is sometimes the CNA who the patients sees and encounters most often.  Sometimes the patient only sees the RN when meds have to administered.  So don't be surprised if the patient has no confidence with the nurse.

Sure RNs are busy, but from the patient perspective, that is irrelevant.  Think about it, that was not an issue on the ICU floors or IMC where there is no CNA.

Really? We summarize this as no confidence or being busy.

Then picture this. One my way to work I get stopped by cops because I am among the few black people in a white neighborhood. They check my license and registration,my car. They don't find any pending warranties or drugs or guns. But it happens all the time for no reason until I file a complain with an attorney.

In my local stores the minute I walk in,security follow me aisle to aisle,watching my every move. Several times I have given them my bag and jacket and told them I was not planning on stealing that day.

At work I watched the nurses that I precepted get paid more than me or get promoted,because a black person being in charge would not make the clientele happy. Several times I was told go back where you came from or I don't want your kind? Yes and even though I speak with an American accent my English was still an issue. 

But the system has enabled this kind of racism. 

I am in Europe,I am not saying there are no issues but no one follows me around when I walk into a store,the cops have no right to stop you ask for ID for no reason,when you get any job,it is  transparent and merit based system where at least 3 people score you and you are hired based on skills and qualifications not skin color or who you know.

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Huh, are you talking about yourself or someone else. You are giving two different accounts.  Is your first part about being in Europe, or are recounting incidents from outside of Europe?

5 hours ago, waufah said:

I am in Europe,I am not saying there are no issues but no one follows me around when I walk into a store,the cops have no right to stop you ask for ID for no reason,when you get any job,it is  transparent and merit based system where atleast 3 people score you and you are hired based on skills and qualifications not skin color or who you know.

Umm, I would call that confirmation bias.  Racism is a problem everywhere not just by certain people and in certain places.

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waufah has 13 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in ICU,Tele,Interventional Radiology,PACU,Research.

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54 minutes ago, DesiDani said:

Huh, are you talking about yourself or someone else. You are giving two different accounts.  Is your first part about being in Europe, or are recounting incidents from outside of Europe?

Umm, I would call that confirmation bias.  Racism is a problem everywhere not just by certain people and in certain places.

My profile will tell you where I am. I am just  telling my story like the author requested and offering a comparison in my current location.This is my story and all those  incidents are mine in America as a black nurse,immigrant  and American. Racism is everywhere alright so I guess I should suck it up and accept that is life? I chose to speak up and share my story. Hopefully this will give others a platform to do so and offer insight the struggles black nurses are facing at work and  personal level. The fact the author could not find peer reviewed articles or systematic review on the topic says alot.

Edited by waufah
Grammar

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Quote

Mary: “I don’t think it was race. I think it might be because I’m very honest. Sometimes that can be perceived as ‘the angry black woman’ I’ve always gotten in trouble for being honest.”

I can definitely relate to this. I'm brutally honest and never been good at politics. There's too much politicking in nursing.

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17 hours ago, Daisy Joyce said:

I’m a white nurse and take shifts in a nursing home where the clientele is mostly white, and I’ve noticed the residents assume that anybody Black is an aide, and Black male nurses just really confuse them .

But if the resident tries to make prejudiced remarks to me, I “play dumb”, (like I don’t know they’re being prejudiced), and say something like “Isn’t it nice that we go through life and get to meet lots of different people?”

That usually shuts them up.

You first said this.

10 hours ago, DesiDani said:

That could be because. it is sometimes the CNA who the patients sees and encounters most often.  Sometimes the patient only sees the RN when meds have to administered.  So don't be surprised if the patient has no confidence with the nurse.

Sure RNs are busy, but from the patient perspective, that is irrelevant.  Think about it, that was not an issue on the ICU floors or IMC where there is no CNA.

Then you remixed it to this. And that's simply not true. Nurses don't only interact with patients to pass meds and if they do then that's a trash nurse.

4 hours ago, DesiDani said:

Umm, I would call that confirmation bias.  Racism is a problem everywhere not just by certain people and in certain places.

Then you end with this.

 

Do you realize you've just dismissed what @waufah said in multiple posts? She basically said the same thing you said but it wasn't racism when she said it, despite the fact she EXPERIENCED it first hand. Why?

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kbrn2002 has 25 years experience as a ADN, RN and specializes in Geriatrics, Dialysis.

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I am white. While my community is now reasonably multi-cultural when I was growing up there was literally one family with black kids in my school district.

We have one high school which was pretty crowded when our population was a few thousand more than it is now. I never thought it about as a kid but as an adult I've often wondered what their experience was like being the two kids of color in a school of over 1500.  Their family had three children but they were far enough apart in age that only two kids were ever in the same school. 

I'm aging myself here, this was in the 70's and early 80's when overt prejudice against anybody that was other than midwest white christian was the norm. I had gay friends that never dared to come out until much later in life and a friend in a very conservative religion that was frequently bullied over her clothing and hair. 

I lived in Milwaukee when I was young. I went through the bussing program where inner city kids were transferred to predominately white schools. Us kids had no big problems but the adults! WOW!! It was kind of scary as a 5 year old walking through a crowd of parents protesting just to get into school.

Our family was good friends with another family so of course us kids overheard conversations not meant for their ears.  My friends oldest sister was a pregnant teenager, the father was black. The big decision was if she should have an abortion or have a "mulatto" baby and what that child's life might be like being mixed race.  She did have the baby, we lost touch with the family when we moved away in 1973 and I occasionally wonder what my old friend is doing now. 

As an nurse I've seen racism and it's ugly. I worked LTC for most of my career. I've never noticed racism from other staff but that certainly doesn't mean it never happened.

Where the racism was common was from the elder population we cared for.  That was so blatant when a person of color was hired one of the senior staff had "the talk" with them, warning them to expect language that was unacceptable now but was the norm in the era those old folks grew up in. 

A female black nurse was much more likely to be perceived as the help than as an educated well qualified nurse.  Even more so for a black CNA.  A few stayed for awhile but nobody of color was ever what I'd call a long term  employee.  Most of the black CNA's went on to different careers or left the area, most of the black nurses ended up either working in the local hospital or moving to large cities like Minneapolis, Milwaukee or Chicago. 

This is of course my perception as a white woman, I can't speak to the experience of being on the receiving end of racism.  I'm sorry for everyone who has.  I can't imagine the horror of being a parent of a black child and having "the talk" that warns them how to behave in public, especially when the police are involved.  It's beyond sad that is the reality of life even now. 

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