When we discuss social justice, we are referring to the fair and equal treatment of individuals; where their rights are protected, there is equitable distribution of resources, and decisions are unbiased. In healthcare we often frame this in terms of health equity, which is the work of reducing health disparities and the goal that all individuals achieve their highest level of health. Historically, people of color, women, LGBTQ+ groups, and those from lower socioeconomic standings have either not had access to healthcare or have experienced trauma in healthcare systems.
Nurses are in a unique position to drive social justice and equity in healthcare, due to the level of trust and interaction they have with patients. Our holistic training and adherence to the ethical principles of nursing make us ideal social justice advocates. Our profession has consistently ranked #1 most ethical and honest profession and the American Nurses Association statement on Ethics and Human Rights calls for nurses to advocate, protect and amplify human rights and social justice concerns.
A history of social justice in nursing
Our history as a profession is based on social justice activism. Florence Nightingale worked to improve conditions for women and was an advocate for hunger relief in India. She is just one in a long list of nurses who have sought to improve access and create health equity. Other examples include Lillian Ward and Mary Brewster who created the public health nurse role. This role was founded with the idea that nurses must treat social and economic health problems first in order to treat sick people and preserve human dignity. Estelle Massey Riddle who worked to change discriminatory policies in both nursing schools and the National Nursing Council for War Service.
Most recently, nurses have raised their voices to cry out about unethical practices regarding medication costs and pharmaceutical companies, protested environmental health issues like the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and marched against racial injustice with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The nursing profession will be key to find the way forward during this current pandemic and the impact it has had on underserved groups. We have the voice and reputation to educate communities on safe practices to reduce Covid-19 transmission and increase vaccine compliance.