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Hearing our voices (part 1): facilitating nurses’ reflection on taking anti-racist action

Authors’ video helps viewers consider questions about ‘what can I do?’

By Michelle Danda, Jessica Key, & Claire Pitcher
May 16, 2022
The authors of this Canadian Nurse article created the above film, Hearing Our Voices: De-centering Whiteness In Health Care, to acknowledge that racism exists in health care and explore ways to move toward an anti-racist state.

This article is the first in a two-part series. Next week:
Hearing our voices (part 2):empowering nurses to take anti-racist action in health care

Racism is pervasive in our health-care system. Since the spring of 2020, there has been increased focus in the media and in many workplaces on the existence of systemic racism. These conversations have been especially important within our health-care and policing institutions. For some nurses, these conversations elicited shock and even confusion: “What? Here in Canada? I don't know anyone racist on my team! This must be a misunderstanding!” Meanwhile, for others (largely for those racialized people who witness and experience racism on a regular basis), these conversations were long overdue.

The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) has released statements about its stance on anti-Indigenous racism and anti-Black racism in nursing and health care.

We would like to invite you into a dialogue on this topic.

Over the past 18 months, as nurses have grappled with the topic and living reality of racism in health care, many have asked, “What can I do to address this and to make the environment where I work safer and more accessible for all people?” We would like to invite you into a dialogue on this topic. For many nurses, especially those who identify as Black or Indigenous or who are people of colour, the problem of systemic racism has been in their face in day-to-day clinical work and in health-care institutions. Many nurses have been experiencing this systemic racism as early as when they began their nurse education.

In the summer of 2020, we saw an opportunity to be part of the change. Our collective action led to the creation of a short film, Hearing Our Voices: De-centering Whiteness In Health Care, which addresses racism in health care as a means to both acknowledge that racism exists and to generate the dialogue and associated action we believe is needed for the nursing profession to move toward an anti-racist state.

We share our film with you here and invite you to reflect on the following journalling or dialogue prompts. We will return next week with follow-up resources and summary thoughts on the prompts below.

Reflection questions

  1. What does the term “racism” mean to you? What factors and/or outside influences have shaped your understanding of this term? Has your understanding of the term changed at all over time? If so, how?
  2. Do you believe that racism exists in health care? What examples from your nursing practice have informed your answer to this question? Have you had the opportunity to listen to racialized patient advocates and/or health-care providers share their thoughts on racism in health care?
  3. What do you see as being your role in acknowledging and addressing racism in health care? How is this the same or different from the role you see the nursing profession as a whole playing in acknowledging and addressing racism?

As part of this project, we identified a need for strategies and tools to maintain ongoing public engagement. If you have any additional questions about the film or things you would like to discuss further, please visit our website, The Shift Change.

Michelle Danda, RN, PhD(c), CPMHN(C), graduated from the bachelor of nursing accelerated track program at the University of Calgary in 2008. She currently lives in New Westminster, B.C. She is an informatics nurse in Vancouver, B.C., and practises mental health nursing at Lion’s Gate Hospital in North Vancouver, B.C. She has four beautiful children with her partner, who is also an informatics and mental health nurse. She is a PhD candidate in the doctoral nursing program at the University of Alberta, studying the history of psychiatric nurse education in British Columbia.

Jessica Key, BN, RN, is a citizen of the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw Nations as well as a settler of British and Irish origin. She is a registered nurse who currently works as an Indigenous patient care clinician, where her work is focused on increasing adoption of Indigenous cultural safety in acute care settings, anti-racism and decolonization in health care, and supporting and advocating for Indigenous clients and families. She is currently completing a master of science in nursing at the University of British Columbia, and is also a founder and director of Akala Society.

Claire Pitcher, MSN, RN, is a registered nurse with a bachelor of science in nutrition and food science from the University of Alberta (2009), a bachelor of science in nursing (2011) and a master of science in nursing (2017) from the University of British Columbia (UBC). She is also a UBC School of Nursing adjunct faculty member. Claire is a descendant of English and Irish settlers and currently lives on Musqueam, Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Tsleil-Waututh territory. Claire is committed to applying an anti-racist and anti-oppression lens to every aspect of her personal and professional life.