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Unrecognized Discrimination and Racism Widespread in Canadian Health Care

"I hope that it's not a Black one," said a patient to nurse Daria Adèle Juüdi-Hope, coming off her shift, after being informed that another nurse was coming on duty. The nurse that followed was indeed Black and the patient attempted to justify her statement to the second nurse by saying that it reminded her of slavery to call on a Black nurse.

The patient's provocative and racializing statement is representative of an observation that can be made about the healthcare sector - that many Black healthcare workers experience racism on the job and are confined to entry-level or non-specialty roles with little opportunity for advancement. Further into the news article, Morgan Hoffarth – the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) President – suggested that Black nurses face limitations due to systemic racism which can affect both their individual health and their contribution to health care. These limitations can prevent Black nurses from advancing and make their work-lives static, further skewing the demographic make-up of the field.

Racism and Mental Health in Healthcare

205 Black nurses were surveyed by the RNAO's Black Nurses Task Force. 88% reported that they had experienced racism while at work and 63% claimed to have been affected by the racism that they experienced, leading to stress, depression and anxiety.

Furthermore, inequalities and lack of representation are apparent within the nursing stream. For example, one participant noted that she had never had a Black instructor during her many years of schooling at multiple universities. This lack of representation continues despite our reliance on the work of Black and racialized nurses within the Canadian healthcare system.

The task force made 19 recommendations in the report. Among the recommendations were the adoption of a "zero-tolerance" policy against racism for all healthcare staff, patients, and visitors; a call to increase access to mental health supports in the workplace; the need to collect and disseminate race-based data; the need to increase diversity in leadership; the inclusion of racism in the nursing curriculum; and holding staff at all levels accountable for fighting racism.

Corsita Garraway – co-chair of the task force and a nurse practitioner – remarked that "all healthcare and academic organizations must immediately take action and acknowledge that anti-Black racism is deeply entrenched in the history of nursing in Ontario and Canada."

Closing Remarks

In 2017, over 90% of nurses in Canada were women, and a significant percentage were Black women.

Black women nurses make significant contributions to Canada's healthcare system and health outcomes. Governing bodies and the public must recognize the heroic actions that these capable nurses take to support the health of their fellow Canadians. However, the lack of representation at the top can act as a barrier to prevent Black women nurses from striving for leadership roles in their field. Unmasking the racism and oppression that is occurring at all levels of the healthcare system may lead to a more diverse group of leaders that can create much-needed change in the Canadian health care system.

Source: CBC, 2022

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