Racism in the Nursing Workplace Still a Persistent Problem

Have you ever been passed over for a promotion because of your race or ethnicity, even though you met all other qualifications for the job? Do you feel that nurses of color continue to face substantial personal and professional barriers to career advancement? In your opinion, do racial and ethnic minority patients receive lesser quality care than their white counterparts?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’re not alone. An important new study from the American Nurses Association (ANA), based on a national survey of more than 5,000 African-American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaskan Native and Caucasian nurses, reveals that nearly half of the respondents (48%) believe there are barriers to their progress in nursing.

In addition, 59% of African-American respondents, 53% of Asian/Pacific Islander respondents and 46% of Hispanic respondents felt they had been denied a promotion because of their race or ethnicity. The survey also found evidence that nurses of color are more likely than their Caucasian colleagues to believe that minority patients do not receive the same quality of care as whites.

When asked to cite specific barriers to their career advancement, the majority of respondents (44%) felt they faced a combination of educational, institutional, personal and professional obstacles. However, white nurses were slightly more likely to list educational and institutional barriers while black nurses tended to mention only institutional barriers and Asian/Pacific Islander nurses were more likely to cite personal barriers.

The study, Minority Nurses in the New Century: Characteristics and Workforce Utilization Patterns–A Survey, was led by the distinguished African-American nursing scholar Hattie Bessent, RN, EdD, FAAN, who had previously authored a landmark 1997 study on the recruitment, retention and graduation of minorities in the nation’s nursing schools. In the New Century workforce survey, about half of the nurses sampled were African American and one-third were Caucasian.

Although the survey’s findings seem discouraging, the good news is that they grew into a unique one-year pilot project designed to help minority nurses learn to overcome overt and covert racism in the workplace, develop the leadership skills that can open doors to career mobility, and negotiate with their employers to achieve more equitable treatment. Based on the project’s successful results, Bessent has developed it into a model program that can be used by other nurse educators nationwide.

The Minority Nurses in the New Century study–which contains more information about the pilot project, as well as data on minority nurses’ educational background, certification status and employment profiles–can be purchased from the ANA’s publishing division for $29.95 ($23.95 for ANA members).