The Intersectionality between Nursing & Social Justice

Why Should Nurses Be Concerned With Social Justice?

nurses marching for sj

Since Florence Nightingale nurses have been entrepreneurs in finding ways to advocate for social justice.  Social justice refers to the fair distribution of resources, opportunities, responsibilities, and privileges among the members of a population. Social justice from a healthcare point of view means members of a population, regardless of social status, would have equal right and access to health care opportunities.

Nurses pioneered the way and modeled for other professions the importance of patient centered care.  Still today, nurses in every role are concerned with the well-being of the society, thus all the factors affecting health and wellness are their responsibility.  No nursing organization or institution is immune to the effects of oppression and inequities that negatively impact the individuals and communities they serve.  And because nurses work at the point where personal lives cross public policy we have the social and moral responsibility to advocate for diversity, inclusion & equality.

diversity balloons

In order to promote safe and ethical care for all citizens, nurse leadership must strive to overcome discrimination and other forms of oppression wherever it occurs in the health care system beginning in the workplace. Since improving health and wellness involves creating an environment of healing, nurses have to be mindful of the power they have to either enforce or eliminate health inequities.

How can Nurses Impact Healthcare More?

Nursing is the largest group of health care providers at approximately 3 million in the U.S. alone.  We have the power in number and in reputation to write (and right) the future of health care delivery in this country.  And with advanced training we have the opportunity to address severe social injustices that may go unnoticed by other providers who are more often involved with prescribing and treating than addressing the root problem.

Everyone within society can help to ensure that social justice prevails; nurses can uniquely do so.  Every nurse in the profession has the opportunity to reduce inequities they observe in health care by resisting the urge to uphold the status quo and question differences in patient treatment based on outdated concepts of care.

Nurses are Known for Justice Work!

The nursing profession has a tradition of being noted for distinctive ethical practices. Although this tradition continues to evolve, the foundation principles of justice, responsibility, advocacy, and confidentiality still reign. Nurses are responsible for promoting health, preventing illness, restoring health and alleviating suffering. Nurses perform these functions regardless of color, race, age, creed, politics, nationality, culture, sexual orientation or gender of the individual(s) that require assistance. Nurses also interact with the population on an individual and family level. This means they can gather and disseminate information throughout the population quickly and effectively.

diverse nurses scrubs

Practical Examples of Nurses Leading Social Justice

When nurses play their role in promoting social justice impacts on the health system can be seen in many ways.  Below are a few scenarios in which nurses lead the way in social justice.

Impact #1: Facilitating access to health services in marginalized communities.

I assisted nursing students as there Clinical Instructor at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women to teach the inmates coping techniques that can be used in small and shared spaces to help process unwanted or difficult emotions in real time.  Knowing that this population is often ‘invisible’ because of their cripminilaztion, we developed a framework to help them feel ‘visible’ to themselves. 

Impact #2: Increasing morals in the workplace and community

Nurse leadership should foster a healthy, positive working environment. All nurses have the responsibility to display ethical conduct. Nurses can consider together ways to improve their professional relationship with the goal of providing the best patient care. In order to accomplish this, nurses must have the courage to act on their beliefs.

Figure 2-DHHS, HRSA with citation

This figure from the article Using Social Determinants of Health to Link Health Workforce Diversity, Care Quality and Access, and Health Disparities to Achieve Health Equity in Nursing shows that there is a process in place to increase diversity in health professions to build a culture within healthcare that will ultimately yield health equity.  The recommendations at the federal level to employ more providers from racially/ethnically diverse backgrounds is a must if we are to see a turnaround in the overall health of our nation. 

Impact #3: National Nurse Campaigns

Though the entire focus of the Campaign for Action organization is not focused on the issues of social justice, they do offer resources to nurses for ways to engage in health policy and change.  Check out this webinar on “Diversity and Inclusion: Promoting Health Equity by Understanding Unconscious Bias” 

What will this Cost You?

We haven’t really talked about the truest cost of leadership, which to me is what other people might do if you were to resist the system.  Stay tuned to my blog because next time we will talk in even greater detail about what it takes to be intentional as a leader. 

Thanks for tuning in!

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