Discrimination in Nursing


Published: 26 October 2016

Discrimination is alive and well in today’s society, and nursing is not immune to its effects.

For instance, the Australian Human Rights Commission received 561 complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act, 453 complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act and 740 complaints under the Disability Discrimination Act for the years 2014 to 2015 (2015).

These statistics reflect an alarming trend of prejudice that exists within nursing. By exposing how discrimination is still active within our profession, we can take steps to eradicate it once and for all.

Racial Discrimination in Nursing

Discrimination against nurses of different racial identity can happen in many ways. Patients are one of the primary offenders and can often refuse treatment from nurses who are not of their preferred racial type (Paul-Emile 2012; Farmer 2014). This can cause hurt and confusion for the nurse who just wants to help and do their job.

That is not where racial discrimination stops, however. An American study by Bessent discovered that 60% of African-American nurses, 53% of Asian / Pacific Islander nurses and 46% of Hispanic nurses felt they were overlooked for promotion due to their race (2012).

Sometimes co-workers and doctors can use racially-motivated put-downs to silence a nurse they do not agree with in an attempt to bully them. Comments like ‘go back to where you came from‘ are rare but generally lead to feelings of hostility between co-workers (Minority Nurse Staff 2013).

discrimination in nursing

Gender and Male Nurses

One of the biggest causes of discrimination in nursing comes from accepting men as nurses. The Australian Human Rights Commission received 93 complaints from men under the Sex Discrimination Act in 2014 and 2015 (2015), but these numbers cannot fully encompass how much male nurses struggle for acceptance in this profession.

A study (Kouta & Kaite 2011) conducted on 498 male nurses concluded that the reason/s so few men are in nursing is due to the negative stereotypes, the domination of women in the field and the lack of male role models. Other reports have pointed to textbooks that always refer to nurses as ‘she and nursing school faculty that are outwardly hostile to men who pursue a nursing degree (Minority Nurse Staff 2013).

Men are also not welcomed in the fields of obstetrics and gynaecology, and men are often uncomfortable when examining the genitalia of female patients. This is because they are not taught proper techniques and approaches for men due to a gender bias in nursing schools (Kouta & Kaite 2011).

If nursing could learn to embrace the idea of men as nurses, then male nurses could give better care to their patients.

Nurses With Disabilities

Nurses with disabilities are often discriminated against because of the fear that they will harm the patient. Yet with reasonable accommodation, nurses who have a range of disabilities can be contributing members of the team. Nurses who have hearing loss can get amplified stethoscopes and use pagers that vibrate to answer calls from patients (Yox 2003).

If a nurse has attention deficit disorder, he or she can learn methods to focus his or her attention or take medications to control the condition. Even physical disabilities, such as paraplegia, are not a barrier to becoming a successful nurse. A nurse with this disability could work in nursing informatics, telephone triage or work for an insurance company.

Many avenues exist for a differently-abled person to use the knowledge that nursing would give them, and they have the right to learn it, regardless of their disability.

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