1. Pickler, Rita H.

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More than once over the last few months, writers on social and traditional media have raised the question of what nurse scientists should be doing during the pandemic. Bruner (2020) recently offered a number of suggestions to help nurse scientists stay productive while research projects were on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That advice, which partially addresses the question, and wisdom offered by others hopefully have aided those with concerns about the potential or real stagnation of their work during the 2.5 months (as of this writing) of the research shutdown because of COVID-19. However, there is another more persistent pandemic that nurse scientists need to address-the racism pandemic.


According to the American Academy of Nursing (Corless et al., 2018), during a pandemic, nurses are prepared for leadership roles in policy decisions and in helping health and governmental agencies prepare for and respond to healthcare needs. Given their ethical training and standards of practice, nurses are well equipped to deal with the prolonged crisis associated with pandemics, from prevention through the full course and range of the occurrence (American Nurses Association, 2015). Certainly, some nurses face the threats of a pandemic directly. In the recent COVID-19 pandemic, nurses' contributions have been significant and well documented. Stories in the media abound about heroism, dedication, and quality of care provided by nurses to the sickest of patients.


The contributions of nurse scientists in the COVID-19 pandemic are less obvious. However, nurse scientists have been involved, specifically by studying the causes of the spread, the long-term effects on health and well-being, and, importantly, the ways to prevent further outbreak. I have had numerous discussions with nurse scientists who say they wished they could do more, perhaps join the "frontlines" and provide direct care. However, many factors prohibited some from "doing more," including age, significant child or older adult family caregiving, or the demands of their jobs in teaching or research. I do not think anyone has blamed any group of nurses for their absence from direct care during the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope that does not happen because, very frankly, we need those scientists to use the skills they have to make sense of what has been going on in hospital settings. We further need nurse scientists to help make sense of how the virus affects overall health and well-being across a variety of populations. We need them to study what interventions work best to mitigate those effects.


However, we must ask what nurses and nurse scientists have done and are doing about the much more long-standing pandemic of racism. Have nurses been as involved, as compassionate, as heroic in fighting the racism pandemic? Have nurse scientists? Perhaps, although very likely on a smaller scale and certainly not with the same degree of visibility. To their credit, nursing organizations, settings that employ nurses and nurse scientists, and individual nurses of all races and ethnicities have condemned racism. Condemnation alone, however, is insufficient. Action is needed to stop and, over time, reverse the effects of the racism pandemic, particularly the effects of racism on health.


Health disparities are the differences in health outcomes among people and are defined by social, demographic, environmental, and geographic characteristics. Some disparities may be unavoidable (i.e., baby boys in general weigh more than baby girls of the same birth gestation). Where they are not (Black babies are more likely to die in the first year of life than White babies), we have inequity-differences that are systematic, unfair, and avoidable. Reduction of health disparities usually reflects progress toward health equity (Penman-Aguilar et al., 2016), which should be a primary goal of our research.


Nurse scientists have been, I think, leaders in studying health disparities, examining the health and well-being of persons from many different racial and ethnic backgrounds. However, like other health disciplines, much of nurse scientists' work on health disparities has been descriptive. Only more recently has there been a slight trend for research about interventions to counteract avoidable disparities in order to improve health equity (e.g., see Wright et al., 2020, in this issue of the Journal). This positive trend needs support, with funding and rigorous review, wide publication in scientific and public outlets, and large-scale dissemination and implementation studies. Importantly, research is also needed to prevent the further spread of the racism pandemic; we must be committed to stopping the scourge of racism. Nurse scientists can be leaders in this work, using our nursing knowledge, skills, and compassion, along with our mandate and desire to help others to reduce the racism pandemic through scientific excellence.


Repeatedly, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have heard politicians, newscasters, and many others say, "We are in this together." Absolutely. So too are we all together in the racism pandemic. Although some groups definitely experience the threats from pandemics at much higher levels than others do, all pandemics are a threat to everyone. Generally, I think our collective response to COVID-19 has been admirable. Yes, there are things, individually and collectively, we may have done differently and probably better. However, we have all been on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, an event that most of us never dreamed was coming. As this viral pandemic fades, perhaps nurse scientists can more fully attend to the racism pandemic, serving as the face and voice of diverse patients and research participants, leading in science to reduce health disparities, and doing the important job of improving health equity.




American Nurses Association. (2015). Code of ethics for nurses with interpretive statements.[Context Link]


Bruner D. W. (2020). How nurse scientists can stay productive and on track during the pandemic. Nursing Research (online ahead of print). [Context Link]


Corless I. B., Nardi D., Milstead J. A., Larson E., Nokes K. M., Orsega S., Kurth A. E., Kirksey K. M., Woith W. (2018). Expanding nursing's role in responding to global pandemics 5/14/2018. Nursing Outlook, 66, 412-415. [Context Link]


Penman-Aguilar A., Talih M., Huang D., Moonesinghe R., Bouye K., Beckles G. (2016). Measurement of health disparities, health inequities, and social determinants of health to aupport the advancement of health equity. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 22(Suppl 1), S33-S42. [Context Link]


Wright K. D., Jack A. I., Friedman J. P., Jones L. M., Sattar A., Fresco D. M., Moore S. M. (2020). Neural processing and perceived discrimination stress in African Americans. Nursing Research (online ahead of print). 10.1097/NNR.0000000000000441 [Context Link]