A Rutgers School of Nursing research study has discovered that non-white nurses are suffering disproportionately from emotional distress, induced by a toxic stew of fears engendered by COVID-19 and reactions to workplace racism, which researchers are dubbing a “dual pandemic” because of the severity of the impact of these coupled factors.
The study, which was published in the journal Behavioral Medicine, is one of the first of its kind to measure such consequences, and it emphasizes the need to address the concerns of frontline health workers as the pandemic continues.
“We discovered that direct and complicated relationships among COVID worry, race, and workplace racism experiences influenced variances in nurses’ emotional distress,” said Charlotte Thomas-Hawkins, an assistant dean and associate professor of Nursing Science who led the study.
Racism at work and COVID-19 were “twin pandemics” for nurses of color in our study, which meant that their feelings and fears worked against them.
Because of her own negative experiences working as a black nurse for decades, Thomas-Hawkins, who is also the Director of the Center for Health Services Research and Policy, has long desired to investigate the effects of racism in the healthcare realm.
However, two major events in 2020 drew her attention to their disproportionate impact on people of color: the introduction of COVID-19 in the New York metropolitan area in March of that year and the tragic murder of George Floyd, 46, by a Minneapolis police officer during an arrest in May of that year.
According to health statistics, black, Hispanic, and Asian people in the United States had the highest incidence of COVID-19 infections, deaths, and hospitalizations.
According to studies, nearly half of all confirmed COVID-19 infections, deaths, and hospitalizations among healthcare workers of color occurred among workers of color. Furthermore, among all healthcare employees, nurses were the hardest hit.
She believed that the interaction of these two forces in American life, as well as their impact on people, demanded further examination. COVID-19 and race are linked in both the general population and the healthcare workforce in the United States, says Thomas-Hawkins.
The researchers polled roughly 800 nurses working in acute care hospitals in New Jersey in September 2020, during a pause in the COVID pandemic. Participants filled out online surveys about emotional distress indicators, COVID-19 fear and worries, workplace racial atmosphere, workplace racial microaggression encounters, and demographic data.
Participants were asked how concerned they were about COVID in general, how frightened they were about becoming infected, and how likely it was that someone they knew would become ill as a result of the virus.
Questions about racism centered on whether there were any barriers to advancement, ranging from job prospects to hostile environments. Microaggressions and bias occurrences, such as insults, slights, and discriminatory acts, were also discussed.
According to the findings of the study:
- Non-white nurses were much more concerned about COVID than white nurses were.
- In comparison to white nurses (41%), who were extremely concerned about COVID, a higher percentage of non-white nurses (61%) were also very concerned.
- Negative racial climates were perceived more negatively by non-white nurses, with black nurses reporting the most negative climates.
- In comparison to all other racial groups, non-white nurses encountered more racial microaggressions, and black nurses experienced the largest number of racial microaggressions.
According to Thomas-Hawkins, the challenges studied in the study are vital to understand and manage if the healthcare business is to succeed in diversifying its workforce.
“The psychological effects of COVID exposure and concern in the workplace will certainly last for a long time,” Thomas-Hawkins stated. If workplace racism isn’t fixed, nurses of color will keep having psychological problems on a personal level.