Racism in the workplace

Nurses Relations


Specializes in Critical Care, Capacity/Bed Management.

You have to be more specific...

I've had a patient say to me "Can you call that ****** (edited an extremely offensive term referencing the nurses race I'm sure you all KNOW what word that was) nurse in here" and I have replied "I don't know who you are talking about as I don't understand that sort of language"

They quickly change their tune.


1,076 Posts

I say that it is inappropriate language and that I will not respond to it until they use appropriate language.

Specializes in Psychiatry, Mental Health.

It can be more subtle than that, too, which is why it would be better if the OP's question was more specific.


375 Posts

Specializes in Neuro ICU/Trauma/Emergency.

Depends on the what is being said....

I've had patients tell me a colorful story about the black girl and the three priest.

I've had patients refer to me as an "Orderly" (this was a young nurse who worked for the organization as a LPN, she no longer works there)

I've heard the N***** nurse


All the while, I am brazilian. I give the exact same response to any level of offense: Blank face( no smile) and a prompt "Inappropriate"!

I remember the first time I heard a patient make a racist statement, older lady from South Carolina, she pee'd her pants when I stopped scanning her meds and said...."I did not give you permission to disrespect me."(very firmly) We instantly developed a great patient-nurse relationship.


14 Posts

I appreciate your input! Years ago a patient told me that "my kind" is only good on "wiping butts" and I should "go back to where I came from". She was in her 80's and very rude and sarcastic. I was so embarrassed, hurt, and got offensive with my reply to her yet felt bad because I should not disrespect an older person. This stuck to me to this day. I'm finishing my ADN-RN in a few months and wanted to manage this kind of rude comments in a subtle way without being disrespectful. Thank you!!!

Specializes in SICU, trauma, neuro.

The only incident I've encountered (I'm of Scandinavian descent myself) was a pt making very ugly comments about the CNA who was a fairly recent immigrant from Eritrea. It was not so much about her color, but about her heavily accented English and presumed intellect because of her accent...although a handful of other African CNAs reported her using the N-word with them. I'll admit I was seeing red at the time, but I bit my tongue, took a deep breath and said, "There is no need to talk that way about her. We are all here to help you." She responded with "Oh honey, don't put yourself into her league." Me: "I'd be proud to be in her league." :up: It was the truth...she was a darned good CNA and a really nice person, worked a couple jobs to feed her kids. And let's face it, she wasn't exactly from a place that is known for being easy to live.

I don't think you have to be subtle to be respectful. Keeping your tone calm will go a long way...keep hate and anger out of YOUR voice, but make it clear that you don't accept verbal violence in your workplace. Hugs!


14 Posts

Great advice! Thank you so much!!!

Ruby Vee, BSN

47 Articles; 14,024 Posts

Specializes in CCU, SICU, CVSICU, Precepting & Teaching.

You'll hear lots of insulting language from patients, and not always about race. I've lost track of how many times I've been called "That fat white b**ch" from patients whose distant ancestors came from Africa. (And often their BMI was as great as or greater than mine!) You'll develop a response that works for you. In the meantime, try the blank stare and/or a snapped "That's inappropriate!" if they're referring to another staff member. If they're calling YOU names, the blank stare and/or "that's disrespectful" may stop them in their tracks.

Keep in mind that it's really not directed at YOU, the person. All they see is you the person in scrubs right in front of them, they don't really know YOU. And that their language and behavior says far more about them than it does about you.

Specializes in LTC Rehab Med/Surg.

I had a thought while reading.

If a pt calls me fat or stupid, my place of employment would frown on me engaging that person in any sort of confrontation. If an alert pt were to push me, throw an object, or take my property, I would be expected to call the supe, or security. If the dirty old man deliberately soils himself, I couldn't tell him to clean himself up. Management would fire me for neglect.

But if a pt/family hurls a racial slur in my direction, I'm not only allowed, but encouraged to stop it in it's tracks.

On the face of things, none of the things I described are related. I would argue that they're all an assault on my dignity, meant to demean me.

Not for one minute am I advocating allowing racial slurs to pass without a correction. Not for one minute. But I wish I were allowed/encouraged to stand up for myself in other situations too.


14 Posts

Ruby Vee: Thank you for your advice. I guess I just have to learn to disconnect myself from my emotions and know that I'm not that kind of person they think I am. I know myself better than anybody else. I will use the blank stare to start and work in the verbal comments if the stare don't work :) Thanks!


14 Posts

imintrouble: you have a good point and we can only wish that we can all stand for ourselves without getting reprimanded. One time I have to say something to a patient who threw the coffee lid at me because he was tired of liquid diet and I got the blame for it since I brought him his breakfast tray. I step out for a couple of minutes and came in and just plain told him that it's only the beginning of the shift and I will be taking care of him for the next 11 more hours. I did not appreciate what he did and we'll discuss with his Physician his diet when he does his rounding. I then give him my supervisor direct phone number if he has other issues whether with his care, diet, or with me or other staff member. The patient never did apologize but everyone was happy including the night staff because he did some sort of thing to each of them. He was pleasant the rest of his stay since then.

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