Daria Adèle Juüdi-Hope still can’t forget the words of one of her patients from years ago.
She was wrapping a nursing shift and was saying goodbye to the woman, telling her another nurse would be taking over from her.
“I hope that it’s not a Black one,” the patient told her. It was.
Juüdi-Hope told CBC News she later found out that same patient told her new nurse that being able to call on a Black nurse reminded her of slavery.
“It dehumanizes you as a person and makes you feel inferior,” Juüdi-Hope told CBC News.
Racism on the job, fear of backlash for speaking out, being passed over for opportunities and feelings of depression are just some of the experiences of Black nurses in Ontario, according to a new report released Tuesday.
The study, prepared by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario’s Black Nurses Task Force, surveyed 205 Black nurses and nursing students across the province, and found the overwhelming majority of participants — 88 per cent — reported experiencing racism and discrimination in their work.
As a Black nurse, Juüdi-Hope says she has felt let down by most of her workplaces and since 2015, has gone on to work with Indigenous communities.
“That is the only place I’ve worked in Canada where people see me, don’t think less of me, respect my education and respect what I have to bring to the table.”
She’s not alone.
63% of respondents say they faced toll on mental health
On top of the majority of respondents facing racism, 63 per cent also reported racism had taken a toll on their mental health, creating increased stress, depression and anxiety.
“Being subjected to racial taunts, referred to as a Black nurse — not by my name, teases about my hair, having my grades reduced from an A to a B by a racist professor when I was undergraduate school, not having the opportunity to be taught by black professors,” registered nurse and task force co-chair Dr. Angela Cooper Brathwaite recalled of her own experience at a news conference Tuesday.
“I have attended three Canadian universities in three different provinces and I’ve never had one Black professor.”
Made up of 17 Black nurses and nursing students, the task force was struck in June 2020 after the murder of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer with a mandate to eliminate anti-Black racism and discrimination in nursing.
All too often, the report found, Black nurses find themselves working in entry-level positions or non-specialized roles and international nurses coming in Ontario commonly end up working as unregulated personal support workers.
“As nurses, we know that racism is recognized as an important determinant of health, contributing to health and social inequities. Racism continues to be deeply embedded in the health system and structures within Canada,” Cooper Brathwaite said in a news release.
Calls for ‘zero-tolerance’ on racism, race-based data
As part of its report, the group came up with 19 recommendations, including: a “zero-tolerance” policy against racism for staff, leaders, patients and families; collecting and disseminating race-based data; increased access to mental health supports in the workplace; adding racism in nursing curriculum; diversity in leadership and holding staff at all levels accountable for fighting racism.
While the group doesn’t identify any specific government or industry bodies to implement those recommendations, the task force says it will begin formal conversations with leading hospital and nursing organizations, long-term care associations and educational bodies about the way forward.
“All health-care and academic organizations must immediately take action and acknowledge that anti-Black racism is deeply entrenched in the history of nursing in Ontario and Canada,” task force co-chair and nurse practitioner Corsita Garraway said in the release.
In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) said the college welcomes the the report and is looking forward to reviewing it further in the coming days.
“We recognize the importance of culturally safe care and combating racism in all its forms. Our commitment to public safety includes actively ensuring our registration processes are evidence-based, fair, inclusive and effective as we work to improve public access to safe nursing care,” Kristi Green said.
The RNAO, which represents registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario says it plans to call for “decisive action from national and provincial nursing organizations and institutions” to overcome systemic racism in the field.
“Racism is a public health crisis that cannot be ignored,” said RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth in the release.
“It threatens the health and well-being of racialized nurses, it limits their contributions to the health system and it interferes with their ability to provide safe, compassionate and ethical care to Ontarians.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.