When sick and injured patients arrive at hospitals for treatment, they also bring with them their unhealthy prejudices and biases. On the frontline of health care and healing, nurses may find themselves dealing with patients who prefer a caregiver who is of the same race. Patients—or their loved ones—may express their racial preference with negative comments and intolerant behavior, or directly voice their desire for another nurse. In a perfect world, hospital management would not cater to racially biased requests or demands. But real life is imperfect.

One blatantly racist incident involving an African American nurse made national headlines in 2012 when a white, swastika-tattooed father demanded that no black nurse care for his sick baby at a Michigan hospital. That case served as a springboard for several lawsuits and as a template for health care providers of exactly what not to do. Tonya Battle, a 25-year nurse at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, worked in the neonatal intensive care unit when she met the white parent. After introducing herself, she was told by him to get her supervisor. The father relayed his racial preference to the supervisor, who reassigned Battle.

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