Facing abuse as a BIPOC, female nurse in the time of COVID-19

(Riddhi Jani)

The media often paints healthcare workers as ‘heroes’ — those who continue to be frontline defenders of people’s lives in the face of COVID-19. Yet, despite the plaudits of admiration, the abuse against BIPOC, female nurses and its underreporting represents an ongoing safety concern and challenge in healthcare.

With the pandemic came widespread racism in nursing and healthcare as a whole. According to a CBC article, 88 per cent of Black nurses and nursing students have experienced racism and discrimination in the workplace; 63 per cent also reported higher incidences of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Canadian Black Nurses Alliance’s (CBNA) founding members Ovie Onagbeboma, Ava Onwudegwu, and Karen Pingal share that “with the increase in burnout, frustrations around the constant changes to policies as we navigate the pandemic, and the exacerbation of nursing shortages, the burden of the pandemic has removed filters that once existed.”

Alongside patients who walk through the door, this also derives from fellow coworkers who are burnt out or have implicit biases. “The pandemic highlighted the lack of support, opportunity, and jobs that women of colour experience,” they continue.

Sana Bajwa, a third-year nursing student, explains that these issues among BIPOC, female nurses typically occur in more covert, subtle forms.

Bajwa notes that it may come in the form of unfair task allocation, withholding information, group manipulation, eye rolling, spreading misinformation about nurses, and speaking in a different language in front of the targets so they cannot identify what is being said.

“This is distressing in every way, because this form of workplace violence/bullying/abuse can continue to manifest, and if the victim tries to prove their case and point, they can easily be shut down due to the lack of visible evidence from their colleagues,” states Bajwa.

As such, an increase in this type of oppression can take a toll on the mental health of these nurses.

“This can be isolating and embarrassing, and the pandemic has exacerbated this oppression with increased racism and burnout within healthcare. We see many Black nurses leave an employer or exit the profession,” CBNA founding members state.

Nevertheless, BIPOC nurses have begun speaking out to emphasize the importance of addressing workplace discrimination, whether it be through activism, entrepreneurship, or otherwise.

Yet, the question remains: what can the community, particularly students, do to further tackle this issue?

Education and advocacy are arguably our most effective weapons against discrimination of BIPOC nurses. According to Bajwa, recognizing the fact that workplace abuse and discrimination exists (and understanding how it occurs) is a great first step.

“The best gift you can give somebody is knowledge. Once you know something, pass it on,” Bajwa emphasizes. “Not only does it inform people, but it helps you learn about the public circumstances surrounding the issue and what next steps need to be taken.”

As part of Bajwa’s initiative for the Nurse Leadership class, through which she focuses on workplace abuse/violence, she emphasizes their aims to not only identify such incidences of abuse, but also integrate culturally sensitive training. This allows for nursing students to become aware of their unconscious biases and train themselves to prevent interference with patient care and colleague relationships.

The CBNA also share their next steps towards supporting Black voices:

“The CBNA intends to empower all Black nurses from the inception of nursing school to the highest level of their potential. We are providing motivation and support through our social media platforms and encouraging nurses to think outside of the box by amplifying the contributions and work of Black nurses across Canada through our Black Voices in Nursing series.” 

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By Aleksija Milovanovic


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