Race in Nursing Practice: Exploring Racial Inequalities from a Historical Perspective

According to scholars, racism is defined as the political, economic, social, and cultural actions, structures, and beliefs that perpetuate an unequal distribution of resources, privileges, and power between black people and white people. This racism is influenced by many factors, including historical and traditional factors, and is deeply embedded and normalized in many countries.


Healthcare providers in the nursing industry experience discrimination, bias, and prejudice, which in turn influence caregiving and treatment decisions and also contribute to disparities in health status.

Exploring Racial Inequalities from a Historical Perspective

When professional nursing emerged in the late 19th century, it reflected the deeply entrenched racism. Racial quotas were present in the nursing schools where black people were denied admission to nursing schools. Black nurses were also often barred from nursing practice privileges at local hospitals.


Due to this, the black community opened their own hospitals and schools of nursing to educate black people on how to provide nursing services. In 1906, the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses was formed to cater to the specific needs of black nurses and also address issues like racial segregation.


At the time, most state nursing organizations denied their memberships to black nurses. Furthermore, a number of countries also prevented black nurses from taking the common examination to become registered nurses. For the organizations or agencies that employed both black and white nurses, in many cases, black nurses were paid considerably less than white nurses.

Present-day Race Issues in Nursing Practice

Currently, nurses are often resistant to the idea that healthcare organizations continue with the oppressive racial and socioeconomic practices that are the biggest contributing factor to health disparity and discrimination. Nowadays, nurses are educated to value patient’s and worker’s individuality.

Black nurses have consistently reported feeling professionally invisible and an unexplainable inability to grow in their careers. Very few black nurses advanced to leadership positions even with doctoral degrees. Due to this, black nursing students have complained of fewer role models during their coursework.

Moreover, racial minority nurses have reported that their feedback was often ignored during meetings, which results in feelings of powerlessness during the decision-making processes.

Many nurses in service get uncomfortable when it comes to discussing race issues and tend to avoid it altogether. These discussions about race may often provoke powerful, negative emotions, which may lead to conflicts. Discussing such issues requires a faculty that have excellent communication skills as well as a high tolerance for conflict.


For a diverse and inclusive workforce to be successful, where everyone has an equal opportunity for advancement, there should be an exploration of the impact of race and the history of nursing to inform the current nursing curriculum.

There is a huge importance of history in understanding the current racial climate. Adding history to the curriculum ensures that all aspiring nurses and nurses in service have the same foundation. The development of a method of discussing racism issues in a respectful way is crucial. It is essential to integrate the issue of diversity and inclusion into the undergraduate curriculum.

September 2021



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Kim Hen - Women Leaders Association


American Organization of Nursing Leadership

Advocacy and Service

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