Race, Racism and the Future of Nursing

Sophia Henry
Sophia Henry

In the 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famed “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., overt racism largely has disappeared from the United States. “Whites Only” signs came down, Jim Crow laws were eradicated, and Blacks and other people of color are no longer automatically excluded from schools and hospitals.

But racism endures in institutions, in the structure of society and culture, in health care, and, consciously or unconsciously, in individuals across the country.

“I am filled with anger, brimming with pain,” said Sophia Henry, shift coordinator in the Adult Emergency Department of The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. “I cannot suppress my feelings anymore.”

Henry will offer a personal look at the often-painful realities of racism and bias in U.S. society and health care during today’s session, In Search of the Promised Land: A Nurse’s View on Race, Racism and Our Future Together, at 2:45 p.m. Central time.

“There is no more entering a restaurant through a side door,” she noted. “But the wait staff may make you wait long enough to consider whether or not you want to eat in that establishment or not. We are still a nation where people are judged by the color of your skin.”

Racism has plagued the United States since its inception, with ramifications so deeply rooted in the fabric of society that its effects are seen as “normal,” Henry said. The COVID-19 pandemic has further underscored the reality that inequities in health care based on race are prevalent regardless of socioeconomic or health insurance status.

Minority patients often feel afraid and unwelcome in hospitals. Similarly, health care personnel of color, including certified nursing assistants, technicians, nurses and physicians, continue to experience explicit and implicit racism from patients, peers and supervisors, Henry said.

“I have been misidentified as being a part of every group in the hospital except a physician,” she said.

Racism comes in multiple forms. Henry will explain how interpersonal, institutional and structural racism and racial disparities have been documented in health care among providers at all levels.

“Nursing must be deeply involved in addressing these problems,” she said.

EN21 session recordings will be available for on-demand viewing on the meeting platform through Jan. 31.