Racism in Healthcare. Your Stories

By December 30, 2015Nursing

We all know that despite the year being 2015….and almost 2016, that racism still exists.  It is shameful, and nobody likes to talk about it.  So naturally, here I am.  Yelling about it. Because that is what I do.

fish

Not a fish out of water.  That is a fish in a pool of sharks.

On the message boards yesterday, an African American nurse was very upset and obviously came to us for help. However, she used a word that none of our team can abide. We are a pretty thorough racial mix, and we lost our collective minds when we saw derogatory racial slurs just OUT THERE on our message boards.  I am sure you know what it was, but I will give you a picture to help. This is one of the saddest little poems I have ever seen. It addresses the marks that can be made on children exposed to a single incident of racism, and it makes me ill.images (8)

We asked her to remove it, because that word is appropriate in almost no context.  She was very upset, left the group, and for that I was sad. But we cannot allow these words of hate to occupy any place within Show Me Your Stethoscope.  We are about unity.  We love our members, and we are not interested in their skin color. We are #nursesUnite.

There will be some racial slurs in the following stories.  You wrote them, and I will leave them intact because keeping the lines of communication open and honest is very important to me.  How you are treated, and how your patients are treated is very important to me.  Let’s look at some contributions to this blog.

Pamela Nienaber I have been told throughout my career that a patient didn’t want me as their nurse because I wasn’t Hispanic. (I live in South Texas) Also very frequently the patient would refuse to speak to me in English but would speak to the doctor in perfect English when he/she was in the room.

Destiny Bennett-Whiteside Doing in home care, I went to a patient’s home for the first time and upon entry the patient refused to let me get a set of vitals and also proceeded to sic their dog on me claiming they don’t allow niggers in their home. The dog attacked me as the patient and their family watched. Walked away with a bad dog bite.

<Name Redacted because of age of patient> I entered the room of a 97 yo AA woman. I introduced myself and asked if I could do my assessment. She yelled at me “get out of my room you white devil”! She would not let me enter without screaming. I didn’t get offended. I considered her age and things she may have experienced being black in the south. I sent the AA tech in the room to be her nurse while I stood in hall out of line of sight. Worked great. Pt was comfortable, got the care she needed, and all was happy. Sometimes instead of getting offended, walk in their shoes.

Paige Geisterwolf I had to step in when a white family member called my CNA a ‘n-word,’ I was cut-off mid greeting by a black woman who wanted a black nurse (we didn’t have any that shift); I have been called an ‘uppity redneck;’ several nurses were accused of being racist toward Hispanics because her q2prn dilaudid wasn’t on time. All from patients and families, never coworkers.

Robin Covey I’ve had patients refuse to be cared for by my African American students in the long term care facility in the past. I reassigned the students so they wouldn’t be subjected to the nastiness of a hostile patient for the entire day. Only a couple of patients like that though. These patients were quite elderly and difficult to work with overall.

<a 23 year nurse and nurse manager> I just resigned from a management position where I work. A huge part of why I resigned was racism. I am white. But the other white nurse managers are very racist. Several months ago, at the lunch table, the nurse directors and managers were discussing employees. Whenever they talk about a black person they would tap their cheek. I was sickened by it.  I stopped going to lunch with them about 2 months ago. The retaliation started then. I refused to be part of the “mean girls club” It is like a high school clique. I have worked at this hospital for 23 years. I resigned from my management position and am staying registry. I am scared to death about starting somewhere new, but I know I have to do it.

Michelle Mariash Schroeder Working in northern FL, I occasionally take care of a ‘good ole boy’. At the very beginning of my shift, as I was making my initial rounds, a patient eyes me up and down, and with a disgusted look on his face, said “one day, patients will be able to choose their nurses.” I didn’t give him the satisfaction of getting another nurse, however it was one heck of a long shift! Every time I spoke to him, he would look at me as if I had three heads, and would then look at his wife for ‘translation’ even though I don’t even have an accent even though I’m Filipino. At the end of my shift, when I’ve just about had enough, I asked a caucasian colleague to help me with him and he was as sweet as pie and as cooperative as could be with her. I was so disgusted and never felt like that with a patient. Glad not everyone in the south is that way.

<redacted> Oh – and as a nursing instructor, I have been accused of being a racist – oddly enough by both black and white students. I find that funny because my family is like the United Nations – we’ve got lots of rainbow action, but of course they have no way of knowing that. Reality is, of course, that if you can’t pass the tests, you don’t pass the course. Race won’t save you or damn you in my class. But here’s a favorite picture of my kids. The bride is my step daughter whom I have raised from the age of 6 as my own.

Janie Harvey Garner  When I was a young nurse I took care of a gentleman who was of a different race than I. I was his primary nurse on nights and picked up shifts to take care of him. He was VERY sick, and would ultimately die. However, we got along well and I cared a lot for him. His son who had not seen dad in a while came in at 8pm on a Sunday for the first time. He proceeded to abuse me verbally. When I politely asked why it seemed he and I were not connecting, he told me that I would not take care of his father properly because I was not a ______ nurse. He demanded a change in staff.

Victoria Conlu When I was still in nursing school, there were some floors where other nurses would look at me and roll their eyes. “Of course you want to be a nurse,” one said. “That’s what all good Filipino girls do, isn’t it?”I have often been treated like me becoming a nurse was a foregone conclusion, that nursing was simply the default route for all Filipina women. While most people have been welcoming and spoke highly of their Filipino peers, some had very negative attitudes. This was a large part of the reason why I decided to pursue nursing away from the acute care/bedside setting.

Tiffiny True I’ve mostly had patients refuse care from my techs or a nurse because of color. Sometimes they try to be discreet about it but we all know what they’re talking about. Last week one older lady wouldn’t even let my tech go over legal paperwork and get her signature.

Brenda Wentorf I witnessed racism against a Muslim co-worker. While he wasn’t the best RT around he was an incredibly sweet person. A RN whose husband was deployed at the start of the war in Iraq was constantly making racial slurs behind his back and would turn him into the RT supervisor whenever she had a chance. Instead of showing him where he went wrong she kept trying to get him fired. When management found out about the slurs, she was the one who got the reprimand.

Alysha M Wilson I work in management in home health and we routinely get requests for “a white girl” or “a black girl” specifically. Have heard such nonsense as “those _______ girls don’t know how to wash a _______ person” like race changes anatomy.

Taryn Hybeck I was the charge RN and I had a CNA go in a pt room to help him get up, he threw her out saying he want not being “cared for by that boy”…she was a lesbian. So I sent her wife in to care for him; the first wife’s hair was shorter, but her wife had long hair so this pt decided she was fine. We still felt like we won that battle.

Emily Darras I was a brand new CNA going through nursing school. Worked nights at the local hospital and one night went to start my rounds when a patient’s family of a different race told me they wanted a CNA of their race and were very rude to me. I was originally from a metropolitan area and never experienced racism before or witnessed it. It was very eye opening and sad to me.

Candi Reign As a nursing student I had a few patients request a different nurse because “That n—- isn’t allowed to touch me”  I took it on the chin with a smile, but inside I felt horrible. I prayed that they didn’t code and need me to save them. Although I surely would have, it would have been a daunting task.

<redacted> To make a long story short, I was called up on a “customer complaint” that was basically bogus. I had to write a reply. I addressed it honestly and completely. The DON expressed her surprise that I could “write and speak so well.” Of course it could have just been because I am short, right? But after a time, my friend who was charge nurse (our friendship was not common knowledge) told me that the unit manager had spoken very plainly and made it clear that she was going to get rid of me. My friend told me to make sure I dotted every “I” and crossed every “t” because she would be looking at everything that I did to find reason to dismiss me. I got injured at one point and she even went so far as to pull out the job description and note that it said I had to be able to lift 100 lbs in order to go back to work. At the time, there was a nurse with a back injury who did minimal lifting, and a couple of pregnant nurses who did no lifting. NO ONE on the unit could lift 100 lbs but i had to have a doctor sign that I could safely do that or I would not be able to keep my job. I got past that one because the doctor stated it was ridiculous and signed it anyway. But I was a basket case with the pressure of knowing I was constantly being watched for a mistake. Eventually, I did get fired, but fortunately a lawyer was able to get them to agree that they had better give me a clean reference if they didn’t want a law suit, so at least I was able to move on. I’d never experienced anything like that before and I didn’t want to believe it at first, but being targeted like that makes a believer out of you very quickly.

steSo, it’s alive and well, isn’t it? Every damn day.  Every race.  Every combination of races.  Every facility.  Every State. See that picture? I have no idea what races any of those people are, but they are united behind ONE thing.  Healthcare.

Please do not allow this to continue in your facility.  Can we make a 97 year old demented woman accept a caregiver of a different race? Probably not, but we can refuse to play ‘select-a-caregiver’ with racists who are alert and oriented.  Join the diversity committee in your facility. Pressure your management team to make policy addressing this and DAMN patient satisfaction.   It starts with US, and we must be the change we want to see in the world.  

I know you are ready to start this revolution.  Keep me posted.

Love,

Janie

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Author Janie Garner

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Brie says:

    I was born into a military family in CA, but lived most of my life in the South. Because of that I have a thick Southern accent. When I joined the Navy myself I experienced what I termed reverse racism. Many people assumed that because I was from the South that I was racist. The past and movies like Burning Mississippi led people to assume the worst of me, even though I had no control over how my state reacted years before I was born. I had actually been raised to be the exact and adamant opposite, so this frustrated me to no end. I even had a complaint unfairly and unjustly lodged against me for racism. It was determined to be false and unfounded, but it hurt. I was also viewed as ignorant because of my Southern roots and was even told when I was Valedictorain “I didn’t know they made smart people in the South.”

  • Mary Kieffer says:

    First and foremost, as an older nurse, and perhaps, that’s the issue here, I don’t agree with your decision to ask that person to remove the slur. You perhaps misunderstood the context in which it was written. In the olden days, and in some areas (unfortunately) today, the use of this word is commonplace. Here it was used to emphasize the degradation society had/has when speaking about/to another person. Having said that, I take personal offense to black/white/yellow/green people that have the audacity to call me racist. My first thought is “if you want to call me a racist, call yourself one first”. Truth in fact, by definition, unless you are a saint, we are all judgmental and can be discriminatory. I am in fact NOT a racist in that I HATE no one. I create NO VIOLENCE against ANYONE based on their race, color, or religion. I don’t DEMAND special considerations or monies because of who I am or my heritage. Anyone who does, in my opinion is indeed a racist, regardless of their color, race, or religion. And they should be ashamed. We all know when we cut them open, they all look the same inside! 🙂 . In short, I am—an AMERICAN and damn proud of it. So my advice to any of you who are causing the issues and hatred-whichever way that would be-is stop it. Simply that. Stop it. Life is too short and you should be focusing on caring for your children-teach them how to speak well and have manners-that’s a lost art. Care for your elderly loved ones-they have a wealth of knowledge to share with you and they deserve to be cared for, not dismissed like an old rag. Take care of yourself and your family, and defend our nation together, not tear it apart as if you don’t belong here. Signed this French-Pennyslvania-Dutch-Irish-Canadian-Indian-Jewish-Croatian-American.

  • krista says:

    (Please withhold my name) I love your metaphorof.not a fish out of water. A fish in a pool of sharks.” This is how it can feel like when you are a nurse and you are not white. To your patients and your fellow nurse colleagues, you are not perceived as one of them, at least not at first until they get to know you. Our society is not color blind. I cannot tell you the number of times others, nurses and patients have asked me, “so….where are you from?” As a professional nurse I treat all of my patients with respect and provide nursing care that is excellent. This is irrespective of how I’m treated by my patients. This is not always easy but nursing is my calling. That said, honestly, I do not have the energy to fight the battles of racism that exists. I do not socialize a lot at work. I am not white, not part of the accepted white group of nurses. One term is called “white privilege.” For the most part, it protects those of are white and those of us who are not white…are different, do not have the same accepted rights and privileges.
    If you even take a moment to consider what I’m trying to express, then thank you. It is what I live with as a person and nurse. I am on the outside of your inside group of nurses. I’m the different one. How easy it is to belong if you are white and conversely, how hard the road when you are not.

  • Eric Ham says:

    As a white, heterosexual male, born and raised in the south, I KNOW RACISIM! I have seen it, lived it and yes, been a victim of it! I was a Firefighter for 9 years before becoming a RN! I applied at a department with over 200 other applicants. After all the tests, written, physical fitness, board interviews and interviews with the Chief, I was number 9 on the list! They had to hire 12 that year, 7 had to be minority! 5 African-Americans and 2 Females. I didn’t get hired! They had to go to number 19 on the list to get to the first minority! I’m over it! I saw what went on and I understand why those practices were used. It sickens me to this day! I did get a job at a Fire Department later, one in another town. We covered an industrial park. That is all we covered. It had many plants! Almost every call brought hazardous materials into play! A young African American male applied for a position we had open and his application was tossed the second he left the station! Racism is alive and well!

    As far as nursing, yes it has raised it’s ugly head and I know how to respect people for their beliefs. Proper or not! What does upset me is how I am treated from time to time because I’m a male nurse! My coworkers treat me differently! This bothers me far more than someone wanting a different nurse because of my skin color!

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