When You See Something, Say Something

Racism in nursing is real. As a writer, nurse, educator, it is my hope that we can learn rather than attack each other. We can disagree to agree and move forward.


When You See Something, Say Something

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools." - Dr. Martin Luther King

Racism in nursing is real. It starts in nursing school, occurs on the units among nurses, managers, administrators, doctors as well as patients; intermingled in this wide web. Some white people become defensive about this topic, they refute and dismiss such acts. I did not want to pursue this topic further but was encouraged by the previous article which asks if racism in nursing is real. Yes, it is real, and happens on many levels and sometimes not so transparent.

As a black nurse, I have written some of my experiences and of course, everyone experiences racism differently. The death of George Floyd has exposed the fight that has been occurring since the black people landed in America. It is many decades later, and black people are fighting for civil rights and equality all over the world. Racism can occur during orientation, unfair hiring practices, unfair patient assignments, unfair treatment by doctors and fellow nurses, the list is endless. I just opened a little window in my world to give share about this elephant in the room, so that fellow nurses can recognize some facets of racism and call it out, say something.


Hope is not lost on this forum. I am encouraged every day by the posts about racism from both sides. Racism in nursing is analyzed from a historical, professional, and personal perspective to examine the relevance of this timely issue in our society (Paradisi, 2012). Many nurse managers’ stated that they feel unprepared to handle or discuss workplace racial issues (Paradisi, 2012). As I have witnessed, complaints about racism are downplayed or dismissed; evident on this forum as well. Many black nurses are tired of having to explain covert racism to white managers and nursing instructors. Many nurse faculties avoid addressing the issue for fear of saying the wrong thing (Paradisi, 2012). To exacerbate the racial tensions, there is a short supply of black nurse managers and nursing instructors to mitigate some of the issues. If nurses do not talk about racism openly, it will continue to persist. We cannot advocate for ourselves as nurses if we are not willing to advocate for all nurses (Paradisi, 2012).

Racism is an open secret in nursing, let's discuss and get educated.

Personal Experiences

In nursing school, I was the first black student in that school for 20 years. I could tell the faculty had no idea how to handle issues that arose with the addition of a black student. My nursing school was in a rural area with a predominantly white population. I just wandered to that community, of course, I am not even going to talk about the issues my family encountered when we rented a townhouse and my kids enrolled in school, it’s just another can of worms to open. As a nursing student, when it came to group projects, I was the last to secure a group; most patients in clinical areas and nursing homes refused me as a student. Students would go for outings on weekends or end of the semester and I was never invited.

Years later, I was the first black educator at the same college, but was faced with some issues of white students undermining and thinking I was an angry black woman despite extensive experience at the bedside and teaching at other colleges as well. During my practicum at an inner-city college, the only one to accept me, one of the educators asked where I planned to teach. I told her about my former college because it was closer to home instead of commuting one hour away. She told me that she will never teach in such a place (she is white by the way). After teaching for a short time, I understood what she meant. There was no support when it came to the students’ complaints. Instead, I was sent to the Dean a couple of times because the student did not like my recommendations. I tried to introduce some changes in the curriculum, Labs and Simulation, but was shut down, only to learn that they implemented the same changes I had suggested after I left. I also applied for a full-time position, but instead, they hired someone who was in the process of getting her master's and not much experience at the bedside. I taught all nursing levels, Simulation, lab and was well vested in the college, but I was dumped like a bag of cow manure. I have a PhD in nursing and have taught nursing at different levels. In other words, I was more than qualified for the job, but did not get it. Of course, the college can hire anyone they want, but I was qualified! Some will say it’s not racism. The truth is, it is what it is. I was bypassed. The college was predominately white so I stood no chance.

Fast forward, when I graduated, I was employed in a Long Term facility that was slightly diverse, because I was starting to wake up and realized that I needed to go to a place where I can survive and not play hide and seek. Some doctors would ask other nurses about my patients, not wanting to talk to me.

After a year, I wanted to switch to the Med-Surge unit at the same hospital. I applied several times but got no answers. The unit was constantly short of RNs and were hiring traveling nurses, but still nothing. Finally, the manager of the unit heard about me and realized that my husband had treated one of her family members. The next thing I knew I was whisked to that unit within a short time. My orientation went well until it came time to be trained for the charge nurse, CN. The current CN gave excuses not to orient me, so when they became sick, I volunteered to be one. This was also a large surgical unit and the CN did not have an assignment. Suddenly, once they saw that I was as competent as they were and I self-taught most of the tasks, everyone started taking vacations. All of a sudden it was OK for me to be in charge.

I then applied to ICU, but the manager in that unit told me that I was not experienced enough. Fast forward a month later, they hired a new grad. I went to an ICU of a regional hospital; this was a nightmare on its own. The unit was known for eating their young as well as extensive racism. The orientation was fragmented and unorganized. I was oriented by eight nurses. When I was about to be returned to Med-Surg, I was oriented by a Filipino nurse. My orientation was extended to eight more weeks but within two weeks, I was on my own and did well. The Filipino nurse guided me and allowed me to be me. She saw my potential and gave me an atmosphere conducive to learning. Most nurses discussed my treatment on this unit, but they all watched in silence and did not say, "boo". I never was given assignments on IABP, hypothermia’s or any challenging patients; but dying patients and an empty bed. I had an admission or a death every other night, which was exhausting.

I decided to move to CVICU. Three nurses applied from the ICU at the same time, but I was held back for three months and the two nurses went straight away. Once in CVICU, I had to be oriented for IABP. The nurses were puzzled why I had not been given such an assignment in a unit with IABP every week. Racism and exclusion, yes? The other two nurses had a little dinner of pizza and cards as a go away gift, but simba marched quietly alone. In CVICU, I was received with open hands. It is a diverse unit and some of the nurses embraced change for better orientation and a better working environment. My orientation was smooth and the environment conducive for learning.

As an educator and preceptor, I provide an environment conducive for learning for everyone. If I see unfair treatment, I go to the manager, and if she does not act, go to the union. Fortunately, my manager can handle racism issues and nip them in the bud. These are just a few examples. Of course, some will not see it as racism, but that is how it feels to me.

FACT: Some, not everyone, think racism is in black people’s minds, it’s not real. Yes, it is real and alive.

When You See Something, Say Something: A Fear of Talking about Racism

Is it wrong to write about my story and personal experiences? As a society, it is incumbent upon all of us to forcefully repudiate all expressions of racial hatred and bigotry. We have a long way to go to assure the equality, civil rights, and civil liberties of all people. There’s no time to waste. According to ANA President Ernest J. Grant, in a June 1st statement, he urged US nurses to, "use our voices to call for change. To remain silent is to be complicit." (Thomas, 2020).

Racism comes in many forms, from hiring, orientation on units, requests for vacations, nurse-to-nurse interaction, patients with nurses, doctors not interacting with nurses of color ... the list is endless and is so complex.

I encourage my fellow nurses to say something when they see racism and call it out like some posts on this forum. I encourage managers and administrators to open their eyes and call the shots when they suspect that racism is taking place.

The discussions about race on this forum are a window into our world. As nurses, we are as far left and far right. I am not attacking anyone but am shedding light on a topic so hidden but so right in our eyes. I encourage fellow black nurses to join organizations and other entities to influence change. As an educator, I will do my part to be a voice of reason that shall not be silenced and stay true to self. I am not an angry black woman when I try to complain or express myself. I am intelligent and hardworking ... a beautiful soul just trying to survive. Together we can! When you see something, say something!

People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other - Dr Martin Luther King

What are you doing as a nurse to make sure racism goes asystole?


Paradise, J. (2012). Off the Charts. American Journal of Nursing Blog
Thomas, K. (2020). Nursing Associations Call for Action Against Racism. The DailyNurse
Vaughan, J. (1997). Is There Really Racism in Nursing Journal of Nursing Education. 1997;36(3):135-
139 https://doi.org/10.3928/0148-4834-19970301-09

#researchpooper, PhD, MSN, CMSRN, Clinical Adjunct and Educator, Travel RN/ICU/CVICU

5 Articles   59 Posts

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John Marcus

3 Posts

I am a male, white nurse. I'm on 3rd career. I went back to school for nursing at 49. I've been a nurse now for 10 years. And I partially agree with your statement.

In nursing, I worked in the OR, nursing homes, (one predominantly consisting of black staff), assisted living (as director of nursing), on the board of home hospice and lastly in dialysis. I'm currently an acute care dialysis nurse working in 3 major hospitals.

In one nursing home I worked with a white trans-sexual CNA. Here planned on going to nursing school. He wanted to be called Becky and some patients refused his service. But I liked working with Becky because Becky was one of the hardest workers. At that same LTC facility, with predominately black workers, I'd say thay many were lazy workers, but it was about equivalent to the percentage of lazy white or Asian workers at the same facility. It's just there were more black workers and hence, more lady black workers. So staff and patients noticed that more black workers were lazy and began to discriminate based on race.

In the assisted living home we had 5 or 6 black employees out of about 20 employees. Our facility was located in a predominately white, wealthy community. The administrator, (not a nurse), and 2 of my 4 nurses were black. One was Filipino and one was Indian. A couple aides were also black. Wait, the black employees weren't black, they were all African. Is this different? Of course it's different. Their culture came through clearly. I cought my older African nurse stealing narcotics. I reported this to the African administrator. The African administrator tried to protect the African nurse but got fired for not observing state reporting regulations, but I had to get involved. My 2nd African nurse, cousin to the thief, started bullying other employees. The company was afraid to take action against both African nurses because they claimed racism. Actually I never dealt with such incompetent people. I scheduled those nurses when I needed them, not when they chose to work and they quit. An African, male aide hugged me and told me I saved his life. My nurse that stole narcotics threatened his life. He told me she had a reputation in Africa, for having people killed for not behaving the way she desired.

While I believe there is racism present and I have seen it occur for no reason except color, note also that some differences in culture may well lead to racist attitude at work and at home regardless of situation. Once exposed to such culture diversity, it's difficult to appear to be fair and not racist. When I see an African person, it's difficult for me to forget the attitudes the Africans had at that assisted living facility. While I have met some lovely Africans, I'm still leary when meeting a new African person.

However, I try to give every new person I meet, an equal chance.


83 Posts

When you see something say something...Gaslighting!

there is no doubt the author is a strong, proud, amazing nurse, but these stories could be the same story for race, LGBQT, male, Muslim, Christian, and above all A NEW FREAKING NURSE!

It is sad that At the highest levels of education and success we see our obstacles as victim hood versus victory.

if We keep perpetuating this narrative, push for disproportional representation, and lack love we will forever impeded the next generation, and diminish successes within our profession.

as a nurse leader I struggle to hold things together due to this Fabricated imbalance for my staff. We have perhaps the most diverse team ever, yet this new “we matter more” Has created a whole new level of bullying in nursing, and it is sick.

allnurses Guide

herring_RN, ASN, BSN

3,651 Posts

Specializes in Critical care, tele, Medical-Surgical. Has 51 years experience.

At age 18 a highschool friend married an older man who identified a Persian. He was 25, college educated, with a high paying job, and good looking too.BUT he tried to control her all day. She was attending a university. He would call the house and wanted her to only do what he wanted. He told her what to eat, where to shop and how link if should take t the store. He once said, "I treat my women and dogs well. He didn't believe in friendship thinking it was an act to get what you want from people. He credited his success and his personality with his ethnicity. (She filed for divorce after a short marriage.)

I knew my wanting to cringe when hearing his accent from a different person was wrong and forced myself to be extra nice.

Then almost ten years later I took a class taught by an ER doc at our hospital who was the opposite of my friend's former husband. Forty years later he is still the kind caring man who unknowingly helped rid me of those negative feelings around Iranian men. Losing that was truly "taking a load off".


14 Posts

Has 1 years experience.

I agree with the writer of this article. I too attended an all white nursing school in a predominantly white neighborhood 11 years ago. I was the only black student in my nursing class. The other students stated that I was accepted because the school needed to accept at least one black student. At the time, I wanted to believe that it was because I had a 4.0 average all throughout college and scored a 98% on my NET exam. It didn’t take long for me to start thinking that maybe the other students were right. I was ALWAYS the last student to secure a group in group projects (I was always assigned to a group that the instructor had to assign me to). The other students DID NOT want me in their groups. I was never invited to their study groups. The instructor paired us together for our head-to-toe assessments. My partner told me that I needed to come to her house because she wasn’t allowed to come to mines (it want my neighborhood, I stayed closer to the school than she did)! She also stated that her parents weren’t fond of black people, but they wouldn’t be home while we practiced. The patients at clinical would boldly stated that they did not want a black girl helping them! A white male classmate and I had the same exact percentage at the end of the semester. We were both worried about the final. We received the EXACT same percentage on the final. He passed and I did not! You may not agree if you haven’t experienced (lived) it; you’re entitled to your opinion. We live with this type of treatment daily. Racism in nursing is real!


14 Posts

Has 1 years experience.

Please excuse the typos. For some reason, this site will not allow me to edit my post.

simba and mufasa

5 Articles; 59 Posts

Has 19 years experience.


Thanks, its time to share our life experiences and to us it is real. It sounds otherwise to other people, but a time has come to bring this dilemma to light, together we can!

simba and mufasa


1 Article; 44 Posts

Specializes in Diabetes, Transplant, CCU, Neurology. Has 22 years experience.

Maybe I'm just fortunate. I haven't seen racism in nursing since 1990. I am male, been in nursing since 1986, and have worked in 6 different hospitals. I went to nursing school in New Mexico, then moved to California. When I first started (on the west coast), I was precepted by a gay male, as well as when I 1st started in a CCU at the 2nd hospital I worked at. They were great guys, great nurses. Then, in 1990, my wife and I (she is also a nurse) moved east, way east, to Richmond, VA. At first, I thought they were still living the civil war. Having spent my nursing career out west, my peers were gay, Fillipino, black, Navajo, male, and 1 had even changed sexes. So, when I saw a white charge nurse put down a black nurse's practice in front of a patient, I was not only take back a little, but I corrected the charge nurse quoting from some recent studies I had read. Most of the nurses thought I was crazy to stand up to the charge nurse, especially since it was during my orientation to the hospital, but I developed friendships that lasted a long time. I haven't really seen racism in nursing since. Could be I was a minority too, never really noticed it. My last nurse manager was black, and we were best of friends too. I do feel bad for the author's experiences, and wonder what years those were. I've heard a couple of patients state they would rather not have a black nurse, but then again, I've heard more say they'd rather not have a male nurse. Sometimes its how you let the patient get to know you, as I can't think of any of those patients that didn't want me for their nurse the next night. I don't doubt the author's experiences, but I just haven't seen it in 30 years. The nursing field is so diverse, and most units need nurses so bad they don't have time or interest in trying to pick and choose nurses of the same color, religion of gender. After work, we all go to breakfast together, we schedule lunch outings together, and sometimes, have parties together (schedules permitting). I'm really sorry if nurses, in this day and age, still feel discriminated against. If you do, change hospitals if you can't change the culture. Many hospitals really want you, no matter what you look like.


27 Posts

Specializes in OBGYN, Lactation, Education. Has 24 years experience.

I’ve been an RN for 20 years and I’ve experienced many of the same things as the writer. I also read some of the responses and it’s the same ole story. Even in the comments folks are attempting to dismiss her story or put someone’s sexuality in the place of race or just outright insinuate that she was probably lazy. I noticed someone made a comment about her being a NEW nurse which she CLEARLY stated she was NOT! This is a PhD nurse.....you know a doctorate..... Seems to me, as usual folks are SALTY!!
I just experienced, just 3 months ago, working a job in which I inquired about an Lactation Consultant position and was told they didn’t have one and weren’t going to. So I took on a staff nurse (M/B) position.
I’ve been a consultant for almost 5 years and hold an IBCLC. About 2 weeks later, I find they’d hired a inexperienced, brand spanking new LC (per her own admission) into a NICU...denying the Mother-Baby unit of one. This nurse is also under 25...so definitely not more experienced than my 20 years. I have my BSN and am working on my MSN....so not more educated than I am. So what else could explain why she was in a position denied to me.... other than that good ole boy racism. I dunno.... it’s sickening though. Well...what could I do about it? I quit! Where I work now, we can file a union grievance!

Also PLEASE stop comparing ANYTHING and EVERYTHING with my race. Someone’s sexual preference is not a seen thing, it’s their personal business. You can see that someone is black/brown/Asian.... basically non-white....you can’t SEE that someone is gay...(that’s a judgment until that person tells you they are.) I agree....if you see something either say something or better yet, move along. Better to leave than deal with foolishness!


123 Posts

I have witnessed it, it was so bad in the cardiac cath lab that I worked in (I was the only black nurse) that 4 nurses were suspended and I was allowed to go home with pay due to the comments I had witnessed. Being told "oh you're not like the other blacks" is absolutely sickening.

John Marcus

3 Posts

I personally believe the problem stems from a misguided perception of race due to cultural differences and poor communication skills.

For example, say you were raised to live together with generations of family, and family was most important to you. And say you met someone that was raised to believe that distant family members shouldn't live in the same household and success is how well you can make it on your own. How might the group's understand each other's needs? Is it possible to, based in cultural differences, become distrustful of the other cultural groups ways or beliefs? Of course it is. And if the two groups fail to communicate effectively you have segregation.

Is this because of different races? What if they're there same race? I believe it's cultural differences that play a bigger role than color. Color just unfortunately seems to be the easiest way people tend to identify different cultures. And yes, it is wrong. How do we correct it?

simba and mufasa

5 Articles; 59 Posts

Has 19 years experience.

Here we go again !


Thank you for baking me up and shedding light to this very sensitive subject. The more examples we give, the stronger the case. As you can read, these are our life experiences and some do not believe, the examples given solidifies the messages we are trying to convey. Yes, in this age and time, things are happening in our own backwards while others pretend not to see or hear.

Thank you.

John Marqus/Booster/Herring_RN

John: Kudos to you for accomplishing your career starting at that magnificent age. However, as we grow older, we are supposed to be smarter and life experiences guide us. As for me, its a great achievement for me personally that you took the time to read my article, that is priceless.However, moving forward, you have a lot of generalizations about laziness and this and that. The focus of this article is to improve nursing in some areas that I mentioned for a better working environment. Now the tables have been turned, its time to listen and see how this applies to you and your coworkers.

As for others who wonder when this took place, wake up people, this is still happening. As for Booster, you are a living example of what this article is trying to achieve, calling out racism in its tracks, just like you did with the manager . Comparing gay, transgender and other issues is different, You have not experienced racism in 30 years, but I have in my 16 years, and yes, its out there. Just because you have not experienced it does not mean its extinct. I wish there were more people like you, at the same time, your own life journey has allowed you to be accepting of people different from you. I can go with you for breakfast anytime!


Thank you for participating, I have read your response several times and am trying to link to what I have written about and am totally lost. Can you tie or elaborate for greater understanding.

Credibility and Validity

I am tired of running away from problems, its time to fix them. First and foremost, my PhD. has given me credibility and validity to affect change . I do not write based on tarot cards or the palm of someones hand, there is research and proven data to back these findings. Knowledge is power, and no-one can take that away from me and will not be silenced anymore. Retaliation destroys people, refuting and rebuking someones life experiences based on your own innuendos is not right. Look at the trunk in your eye,before you remove the speck in your neighbors, stop, look, listen and feel. The truth is, we just have taken a first step in a longer and difficult road, but thank you all, am humbled that you took time to respond, the struggle continues! We are stronger together, divided we fall.