Racial Discrimination In The Nursing Profession

  1. My article describes what racial discrimination is and how it can be present in the nursing profession. I included a personal story of my own experience with racial discrimination and the negative effects that it had on me. I also provided a few tips on how to deal with racial discrimination appropriately and ended the article with an opening for other potential comments or stories.

    Racial Discrimination In The Nursing Profession


    Racial discrimination is the discrimination of minority individuals based on their race, skin color, or ethnicity. Racial discrimination is a popular topic today evidenced by instances of police shooting unarmed suspects and individuals calling the police on minorities for no reason. The problem is exacerbated by social media videos and political influences. Racial discrimination can occur in any setting including your work setting, stores and restaurants, a job interview, and even applying for credit.

    The nursing profession is not immune to the problem of racial discrimination either. Less than 25% of the nursing workforce in the United States are minorities. Racial discrimination can be the basis for failures to promote, termination, patient requests, and disciplinary actions. Have you ever been told that the patient requested "only white nurses", or they stated that they "did not want a black nurse"? These are some examples of racial discrimination demonstrated by patients in the nursing profession. Minority nurses may experience racially motivated bullying and feel as if they are being talked down to by other members of the interprofessional healthcare team, such as physicians, managers, supervisors, administrators, and even colleagues and coworkers. The failure to promote based on racial discrimination has been happening for years and is the basis for many discrimination lawsuits.

    My Story: My own personal experience with racial discrimination in nursing stemmed from a situation of failure to promote. I had been an employee working for a healthcare facility for approximately three years. In the course of my employment, I had obtained a Bachelor Degree in Nursing and was working on a Master's Degree in Nursing Administration. A month or so prior to the incident, I was trained in the charge nurse/supervisor role and began to fill in in the absence of the supervisor. When the supervisor was promoted to the nurse manager position it was expected that I would move into the open supervisor position. The position was posted and there were both internal and external candidates. During the application and interview process, I continued to fill in in the supervisor position, which lasted for a little over a month. I was eventually notified that the position had been given to another internal candidate who had not even completed the 90-day probation period. Other contraindications for this promotion included the selected candidate not having a bachelor's degree and not being already trained in the position. We both had charge nurse and supervisory experience, although she had been a nurse longer than me, I had more experience in that specialty and setting. The only major difference between us was race. How can a new employee with less experience and credentials be chosen for promotion over a 3-year employee with the experience and credentials, and already trained and doing the job? I asked myself the same question. Even after the other nurse was promoted, I continued to fill in as the relief charge nurse. So did that mean I was good enough to fill in but not good enough to be the permanent supervisor? The whole situation affected me very negatively. I lost confidence in myself and began to think about quitting the master's degree program. I began to question if it even mattered that I had an advanced degree because my race and skin color would block me from moving up in the nursing profession. I became so discouraged and disillusioned with being in nursing administration and eventually changed my concentration to nursing education. For days it clouded my thoughts and judgment. I had trouble sleeping and just felt bad in general. Eventually, I decided that I had to address the situation in order to move on.

    There are measures you can take to protect yourself against racial discrimination. Racial discrimination is a violation of the "Civil Rights Act of 1964". Minority nurses who feel that their civil rights have been violated should first file a complaint with their organization's human resource office. In some cases, a complaint must be filed with your organization's corporate human resources office. If the issue is not resolved, the nurse may choose to take action outside of the company and retain an attorney for the potential of filing a Civil Action Lawsuit. In some instances of racial discrimination, you may react negatively lashing out or becoming indignant. This is the wrong action to take. When dealing with instances of racial discrimination in nursing remember to:

    1. Confront the situation but stay professional
    2. Keep a written record of occurrences
    3. Do not quit your job
    4. Attempt to resolve the issue internally
    5. Seek outside counsel if necessary

    Being racially discriminated against may not be a big deal to some, but the truth is discrimination can affect you mentally, emotionally, and even physically. No one should be allowed to make you feel diminished or second best based on the color of your skin. Are there any other minority nurses out there who have experienced racial discrimination in nursing?
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    About MasterStreet, MSN Pro

    My name is Sophia Street and I live in the state of Alabama. I have been a nurse for a little over 10 years and have a Master's degree in nursing education.

    Joined: Sep '18; Posts: 8; Likes: 54

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    75 Comments

  3. by   Bubbles3785
    I completely agree, I have seen this many times in my nursing career and it is a sad thing. We have to work twice as hard to get the recognition that some nurses of a different ethnic background automatically get. It is very hard to concentrate on doing your best as a nurse when childish things like that go on. It makes me feel like just because someone is different they are not good enough to be in positions of authority. Why is that? I feel like it shouldn't matter what background we come from, we all have strengths that we can contribute to the health of our patients. After all, that's all that matters.
  4. by   MasterStreet
    Thanks for your comment Bubbles3785.
  5. by   mmc51264
    I work in an extremely diverse organization. What I find that there can be some subtle things that appear to be related to clique-ish behavior more than racial discrimination. I appreciate my situation and the chance to be more culturally competent (I know that is a cheesy line lol) because of the diversity of my colleagues and the physicians. It helps because we have a diverse patient population too.
  6. by   glencovediva
    Another form of discrimination we don't talk enough about is age discrimination. This effects people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. I'm going through this right now. I would like to return to nursing after being on FEMLA, but all I get is rejection. I'm 57, with a BSN. They only look at my 9 year absense.
  7. by   Delia37
    It is an unfortunate reality. A colleague of mine had a similar situation where she (despite all the degrees/certifications and 10 years of longer experience over the other person) was passed over a charge nurse position. However, she involved the facility union and was able to prevail. The situation ruffled so many feathers, that a new police came out of it, addressing guideline for fair promotions,
    As you mention, it is very demoralizing (and even embarrassing);however, if the facility does not have an union, still confront the situation (in a processional manners!) and keep a paper trail (it might become handy for future litigations).
  8. by   Kratoswife
    Quote from MasterStreet
    Thanks for your comment Bubbles3785.



    Thank you so much for your post!

    It's barely if ever talked about it. And when we do talk about it. People dismiss or pretend that it's something.

    Or even change the subject to make themselves feel better.

    Even your thread has people in here talking about Age discrimination.

    When your post is about race!


    Thank you again! You're a beacon of light in the sea of darkness.
  9. by   pro-student
    Your experience doesn't seem like the clear cut case of racial discrimination you make it out to be. You claim that "The only major difference between us was race." However you also point out that this individual had more overall nursing experience as well as supervisory experience. It can be preferable to move a relatively new person into a different role than upset schedules and dynamics of an established employee. Having a backup trained to fill in could also be an advantage. Some organizations are reluctant to commit individuals pursing advanced degrees into new positions because they might be leaving soon. I'm sure you're aware of some of these factors if you've pursuing a degree in nursing administration.

    My point is, not even knowing the details of the situation other than your one-sided summary, I can come up with at least half a dozen reasons not motivated by race for not offering you this particular promotion. While it is entirely possible that racial animus was part of the decision, I would caution you against playing the race card especially with such thin evidence. Have you experienced any other race-based discrimination at this workplace? It was seem odd for them to train you and allow you to serve in a leadership position if they truly believe you were inferior or incapable because of your race.

    I understand how this must have been a frustrating experience and a disappointment. I certainly don't deny racism is alive and well in throughout the United States and especially in the South. But not everything can be chalked up to racism and very few things are purely racist. I would also mention that if individuals feel they have been discriminated against in employment matters, they would be wise to consult their local office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which is tasked with investigating and bringing charges against employers when such discrimination actually occurs.
  10. by   Kratoswife
    Quote from pro-student
    Your experience doesn't seem like the clear cut case of racial discrimination you make it out to be. You claim that "The only major difference between us was race." However you also point out that this individual had more overall nursing experience as well as supervisory experience. It can be preferable to move a relatively new person into a different role than upset schedules and dynamics of an established employee. Having a backup trained to fill in could also be an advantage. Some organizations are reluctant to commit individuals pursing advanced degrees into new positions because they might be leaving soon. I'm sure you're aware of some of these factors if you've pursuing a degree in nursing administration.

    My point is, not even knowing the details of the situation other than your one-sided summary, I can come up with at least half a dozen reasons not motivated by race for not offering you this particular promotion. While it is entirely possible that racial animus was part of the decision, I would caution you against playing the race card especially with such thin evidence. Have you experienced any other race-based discrimination at this workplace? It was seem odd for them to train you and allow you to serve in a leadership position if they truly believe you were inferior or incapable because of your race.

    I understand how this must have been a frustrating experience and a disappointment. I certainly don't deny racism is alive and well in throughout the United States and especially in the South. But not everything can be chalked up to racism and very few things are purely racist. I would also mention that if individuals feel they have been discriminated against in employment matters, they would be wise to consult their local office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which is tasked with investigating and bringing charges against employers when such discrimination actually occurs.


    Lol @Masterstreet


    People will deny, deny and deny it!
  11. by   pro-student
    Quote from Kratoswife
    Lol @Masterstreet


    People will deny, deny and deny it!
    I never denied anything. I can, however, read and think critically. Doing so will do exponentially more to advance racial equality than insisting that every time a minority doesn't get their way, racism is at play.
  12. by   Delia37
    Quote from pro-student
    I never denied anything. I can, however, read and think critically. Doing so will do exponentially more to advance racial equality than insisting that every time a minority doesn't get their way, racism is at play.
    So, essentially you are insinuating the OP is crying wolf??
    That's the thing, covert racism is well and alive. In my almost 20 years of nursing, I've seen it in many different forms: a surgeon who makes bogus complains on one of the best nurses in the unit (African American); a family that tells you they do not want that night nurse again because "they didn't connect"; a manager who keeps writing up a nurse for menial transgressions (i.e. not labeling an IV site); an educated/experienced nurse being passed for promotion for someone with far less experienced....you get the picture. Unless you are a minority yourself (or really closed to one), it is really difficult to relate and understand where they are coming from. Honestly, I'd have more respect for someone who is direct in their point of views vs someone who passive aggressively discriminate in an overt manner. I think I'd give the OP enough credit and respect (since she is the one going through that situation) to believe and empathize with what she is sharing in this forum.
  13. by   Horseshoe
    Quote from glencovediva
    Another form of discrimination we don't talk enough about is age discrimination. This effects people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. I'm going through this right now. I would like to return to nursing after being on FEMLA, but all I get is rejection. I'm 57, with a BSN. They only look at my 9 year absense.
    It could well be the *9 year absence* rather than your age. Large employment gaps are frequently the cause of hiring difficulties even among nurses far younger than you.
  14. by   pro-student
    Quote from Delia37
    So, essentially you are insinuating the OP is crying wolf??
    I'm not insinuating anything. If you read what I wrote you'd see I stated outright that the situation the OP described very well could have been motivated by racism but even by her own account, there could have been several other and completely innocuous reasons why she didn't get the promotion.

    I also agreed with her underlying thesis: that racial discrimination exists in nursing (as well as in every other area of society). I also added that individuals who experience discrimination of any kind can and should bring their complaint to the EEOC which will investigate and bring action against the employer if there is a valid case of discrimination all without the individual needing to retain private legal counsel out of his or her own pocket. Reporting to the EEOC also aids in tracking patterns of discrimination and can have a long-term positive impact beyond of individual incident.

    I share the ideal of reducing and eventually eliminating racial discrimination from the workplace. As such, I offered constructive criticism because we are more likely to achieve our goals if our arguments are strong and our actions consider the long-term. I'm not saying the OP is crying wolf but the analogy may be apt. If we make poor arguments then no one will believe us when, and I do mean when, it occurs.

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