In the early 2000s, healthcare professionals began creating theoretical frameworks to better understand racial gaps in care. Two decades later, racial disparities remain across all aspects of cancer care, from clinical trials and screening to mortality rates and survivorship. Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), declared racism a serious public health threat. To put those words to action, the agency also unveiled Racism and Health, an online hub for CDC’s efforts and a catalyst for education and dialogue around the critical issue.

“Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they worship and gather in community,” Walensky said.

To address and further understand racism in health care, CDC vowed to:

  • Study the impact of social determinants of health, particularly racism
  • Propose and implement solutions
  • Establish a durable infrastructure in racial and ethnic communities
  • Provide resources to address health disparities in underserved communities
  • Expand an internal agency program for diversity, inclusion, and equity

“Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy,” Walensky said. “I know that we can meet this challenge. I know that we can create an America where all people have the opportunity to live a healthy life when we each take responsibility and work together. I am committed to this work. I certainly hope you will lean in and join me.”

ONS condemns racism and supports CDC’s recognition of the disparities ingrained in our society. Nurses also have a crucial role in addressing racism and finding pathways to more inclusive public health. Educate yourself, talk to your patients and colleagues of color to gain perspectives, advocate for progress, and refuse to accept that discrimination has any place in health care.