Survey: 80% of nurses have seen or experienced racism from patients

A survey of 900 RNs, NPs and LVNs found 80% of respondents have seen or experienced racism from patients, while 60% said it has come from colleagues.

Despite these high numbers, however, only 1 in 4 said they’ve reported the incidents. Why?

“People don’t do anything because no one is going to do a damned thing,” Jose M. Maria, a family nurse practitioner, told STAT. “It’s an extension of society — plain and simple.”

The survey, released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found nurses were more likely to speak with their fellow nurses (57%) about incidents of racism. Only 16% said they went to human resources.

“Black/African American nurses are most likely (64%) to have discussed discrimination/racism they’ve observed or experienced with other nurses,” the survey states.

Perhaps one reason so few report what they’ve experienced could be because, of those who did, “more than 50% say their relationship with supervisors, senior leaders, and fellow nurses was negatively impacted.”

Although Black/African American and Asian nurses — 74% and 73%, respectively — were nearly equal for seeing or experiencing microaggressions from patients, the gap widened when it came to colleagues.

According to the survey, 65% of Black/African American nurses said they had, while 53% of Asian nurses did.

Although 84% of respondents said they experienced racism at a hospital, even more (88%) said incidents occurred in nursing school.

“In the new survey, … more than 70% of Black and Asian nurses and more than 60% of Hispanic nurses saying they believed they were held to a higher standard of performance,” STAT reported. “A majority said they received minimal training on discrimination and disparities while at nursing school.”

Most nurses (86%) responded that educational programs and training on diversity, equity and inclusion are offered where they work. Black nurses, however, were more likely to respond “not at all” to this.

Anna Valdez, who serves on the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing, told STAT very little has changed since she was in nursing school 33 years ago.

“What’s really become clear to me in the last few years is the major problem we have in addressing racism in nursing is denial,” she said. “A lot of people who are white have blind spots.

“Folks that are not experiencing this don’t realize they have privilege,” added Valdez, who is mixed race and grew up with a Black mother. “To me, it was in my face.”

Monica McLemore — a professor and the interim director for the Manning Price Spratlen Center for Anti-Racism and Equity in Nursing at the University of Washington — told STAT she thought nurses were uniquely positioned to disrupt racism in health care because their roles range from patient bedside to leadership, because of the trust they engender, and because their fundamental job is to help people manage major life transitions.

“I believe,” she said, “nurses can change the world.”