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A message from CNA president Tim Guest on Black History Month

February 26, 2020 — Every February is recognized as Black History Month in Canada, a time to honour Black Canadians’ achievements and contributions to Canadian society.  As the month comes to a close, I would like to take a moment to recognize the pivotal role Black nurses have played in shaping the nursing profession in Canada. When discussing the history of nursing, we often think of names such as Florence Nightingale or Mary Agnes Snively and we fail to recognize names like Bernice Redmon, Ruth Bailey and Gwennyth Barton.

Redmon was a Toronto native who had to go to the United States to attend nursing school because Canadian schools refused to admit her. Once she graduated, she returned to Canada and became the first Black nurse allowed to practise in Canada in 1945. Bailey and Barton were the first Black students admitted into Canadian nursing schools, graduating in 1948. While these strong and determined women played key roles in shaping nursing in Canada, they are too often overlooked when discussing the history of the profession.

While race and ethnicity data are not collected nationally on the nursing workforce, research has identified that Black nurses continue to be underrepresented in the workforce, particularly in leadership and senior clinical and academic roles. The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) acknowledges [PDF, 95.2 KB] that anti-Black racism is a part of the history of Canadian nursing and has contributed to a lack of representation of Black nurses in leadership and advanced practice positions.

CNA has convened a panel of Canadian and international experts in social movements and change to inform our work to combat anti-Black racism in nursing and health care. We have generated a first-draft national declaration of principles, actions and accountability mechanisms to lead the nursing profession’s efforts to tackle racism. The declaration also aims to support collaboration and coordination among Black nurses across the country who are leading initiatives in their communities and the profession to empower Black nurses. We will publish the declaration later this year.

Within CNA, we are doubling down our efforts to overhaul our own governance policies, procedures, hiring practices and training to ensure they are anti-racist and anti-oppressive. We are committed to listening and learning from our members, patients, and communities about ways we can overcome anti-Black racism.

These activities are the beginning of this journey for CNA and for our profession. Our future must look different from our past. We should not talk about “breaking glass ceilings” and “achieving firsts” when Black nurses fill important leadership roles. Such accomplishments should not be celebrations; they should be the norm.

Tim Guest, RN, BScN, MBA
President

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About the Canadian Nurses Association
The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) is the national and global professional voice of Canadian nursing. We represent registered nurses, nurse practitioners, licensed and registered practical nurses, registered psychiatric nurses and retired nurses across all 13 provinces and territories.

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Canadian Nurses Association
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