“What type of a horrible country do I live in? My son is sick so I want to see somebody else who doesn’t have brown teeth and speaks English then.”
Back in 2017, a video made in an Ontario clinic went viral after a mother caused a scene, claiming there was “no white doctor in the entire building.” When a minority doctor examined her son, who was experiencing chest pain, the mother demanded to see a white doctor for a second opinion.
Following the incident, a number of doctors came out to say this was nothing unusual and that racial discrimination and harassment are deeply rooted in the healthcare systems of many countries.
From being told to “go back to India,” to “Is that a Jewish surname? I don’t want a Jewish doctor,” to being hit on the head repeatedly for wearing a headscarf, minority nurses often face outbursts of racism from patients they treat.
For example, Stephanie Stith, who works as a traveling nurse, once tended to a patient who told her he was a member of the white supremacist Aryan Nation. Throughout the examination he called her names, telling her he hates people of her color and insulting her. She didn’t want to lose the job so she chose to stay calm and care for her patient in a professional manner.
Minority Nurses Workplace Protection
The problem is that Ms. Stith and her fellow nurses and doctors who’ve spoken up about the issue are the rare ones whose cases reach the news. There are countless similar cases out there, endured in silence. And only a handful of studies so far have looked into workplace harassment faced by minority nurses.
One such study was a 2010 survey of emergency room doctors, which found that patients don’t shy away from rejecting the physician assigned to them and requesting a doctor of their own race, gender, or religion.
And legal precedent also offers little clarification on the topic. Medical personnel are left torn between carrying out their duty and providing help to patients, on the one hand, and facing charges for an assault on the other—for unless there is consent from the patient, nurses aren’t allowed to treat them.
So, here’s what you can do to ensure your minority medical staff have adequate means of protection from workplace harassment.
Workplace Support Groups
As diversity increases among medical workers in many countries, various initiatives have arisen to help spread the voice of minority medical personnel and raise awareness of the issues they face.
One such initiative came from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, which founded a group offering professional support and networking opportunities to help bring together and nurture nurses from a variety of cultures.
Workplace support groups are an excellent place for minority nurses to share their experiences regarding workplace harassment. These groups aim to not only give voice and psychological support but also equip nurses with skills and tactics for handling difficult situations without getting hurt or losing their jobs.
Stand Firmly Behind Your Staff
For any workplace support initiative to succeed, your minority staff needs to feel genuine support from your side. While patient welfare is your primary goal, you and your staff need to be on the same team. And available data suggest that minority staff often fear they might get reprimanded for speaking up.
One study that looked into the experiences of Black nurses in the UK found that the nurses themselves often “downplayed their perception of discrimination for fear of losing access to internal support.”
For you as an employer to be able to eradicate workplace harassment of minority staff, your employees first need to speak up about it.
And for that to happen, you need to ensure they can trust you. This means you should stand behind them and consistently encourage them to speak up if and when they experience harassment or discrimination from a patient.
In practice, this means sharing resources and spreading the word about what’s acceptable and what’s not, as well as organizing discussions and workshops where minority staff or external consultants can train the entire team on how to band together and become stronger allies for one another.
Personal Protection Devices for Minority Nurses
While workplace training can help equip minority nurses, there are certain scenarios where an additional layer of safety might be required.
If you work with visiting nurses, then you should consider getting a personal protection device to help any nurse in trouble quickly get in touch with professional emergency responders. Not only are personal protection devices effective in scaring off aggressors, they can also help send the exact location of the nurse for quick emergency response.
On the other hand, personal protection can also help in-hospital minority personnel in cases where a patient may overpower them and where they must fend for themselves until emergency responders arrive at the scene. With a safety device, they can quickly get in touch with emergency services.
If your medical team comprises minority medical staff and you’d like to provide them with an added level of safety, see how POM can help you.