Diverse Perspectives & Advocacy

The Role of Allyship in Healthcare and Nursing

The Trusted Team
September 1, 2020
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So, what does it mean to be an ally? And what does it mean to be an ally in healthcare, specifically? Sometimes, it’s best to answer a question with specific results; i.e. an ally is someone who can do/does the below things:

1. Recognizes the existence of systemic health inequity 

2. Is empowered to evaluate systemic inequity and advocate for change within healthcare 

3. Understands the continuing role of nurses as allies and advocates within healthcare

If you missed our virtual event on allyship, hosted by the experts, you can watch it below! Otherwise, let’s get started on our recap!

Allyship in Healthcare

To get this conversation started, we spoke to members of the Capitol City Black Nurses Association (CCBNA). The Capitol City Black Nurses Association (CCBNA) aims to advocate for the needs of nurses and optimize health outcomes in communities where health disparities persist by promoting recruitment, retention, and enhancing the nursing education pipeline.

So, why the focus on nurses? Should everyone be an ally? Well, of course, but within health in particular, there are a few reasons why nurses are ideal candidates for allyship.

Why Nurses?

It’s simple. Nursing, for over 18 years in a row, according to the Gallop Poll, remained the most trusted profession. Second, we are inherent advocates. We advocate for our patients, for our peers, and for ourselves. And third, because of these things, we are perfectly positioned to help move the needle forward.

What is an Ally?

Short and sweet, an ally is:

  • Focused on others, not themself
  • Not geographically limited
  • Concentrating on doing the "REAL" work

“An ally is someone who is not a member of an underrepresented group but who takes action to support that group. It’s up to people who hold positions of privilege to be active allies to those with less access, and to take responsibility for making changes that will help others be successful.”
woman holding rainbow-colored candles allyship in healthcare

What is Activism?

By definition, activism is “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.”

Keyword there? Activism is a practice; it’s something that necessitates ongoing effort, learning, and improvement. So how do you go about maintaining this practice?


Activism, like education, is a journey. It involves constant learning and re-learning. You also need to “feel” first. When you ascribe emotions to what you’re trying to learn or change, the experience becomes much more than simply reading a book.

You also much support your education. What does this mean? 

  • Use the Buddy System - find a friend that will learn with you, a friend that can help you stay accountable and vice-versa
  • Non-judgmental - don’t judge yourself or others in the ways they learn; it will be difficult a time
  • Safe space - it’s ok to create a safe space where learning and discussion can be had for educational purposes

And remember, there is no “arriving.” Learning and education are lifelong goals, and every little bit of progress along the way counts.

Have Conversations

Start small. It’s ok to have discussions with your significant other, friends, or family. Don’t feel the need to jump into larger groups or organizations right off the bat. Even the small conversations matter; imperfect conversations are better than silence. And make sure you read your audience, because everyone is at a different place in their education journey.

two woman sitting by window talking having conversations allyship in healthcare

Online Etiquette

We’ve all seen the chaos and carnage caused by online trolls; don’t be one of them! When you’re interacting with others, learning, or just chiming in, be genuine and vulnerable (being non-judgemental and fostering safe spaces is important online, too). It’s also ok to be honest about your journey and where you are starting.

Some specifics to keep in mind:

  • Whose voice is being centered?
  • Is it the voice that needs to be heard?
  • Don’t simply share articles, tweets, or photos
  • Share how it impacted you, and what you think about it
  • Think before sharing videos of brutality
  • Am I just causing more harm? Yes, it raises awareness, but at what cost?
  • There is a difference between allyship & saviorism
  • ”I stand with you” & ”I am here to fight with you” vs. “I am here to save the day” (this is a default impulse for all of us, notice it)

Racism and Prejudice

Of course, racism and prejudice can be unpacked in an endless essay, but for the purpose of conversation, know that (1) our unconscious beliefs impact our behavior and actions more than our conscious beliefs; and, (2) that biases and prejudices can be unlearned through exposure and practice.

Within healthcare, these two understandings are incredibly prevalent in the way pain management is addressed, and thus serves as a central talking point in this discussion.

Disparities in Pain Management

Practices of unequal pain management have been found across racial & ethnic groups (except among non-Hispanic whites):

  • In all healthcare settings
  • Across all types of pain

However, the sources of inequity are complex and are caused by or exemplified by:

  • Patient/provider communication (or lack thereof)
  • Provider attitudes and bias
  • Systemic factors 
Change the priority, change the outcomes. 

Additional Resources / Continued Learning


  • How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi 
  • Stamped From the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi
  • Me and White Supremacy, Layla F. Saad
  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander 
  • Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates 
  • The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein 
  • So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Olou 
  • Fatal Invention, Dorothy E. Roberts
  • Medical Apartheid, Harriet A. Washington 
  • Reproducing Race, Khiara Bridges 
  • When and Where I Enter, Paula J. Giddings 
  • Tears We Cannot Stop, Michael Eric Dyson 
  • White Race, Carol Anderson 
  • White Fragility, Robin Diangelo 
  • Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in The Cafeteria, Beverly Daniel Tatum 


  • This American Life 
  • Episode 684: “Burn It Down”
  • Episode 708: “Here, Again”
  • Episode 707: “We Are in the Future”
  •  Unlocking Us with Brene Brown 
  • Brene with Ibram X. Kendi on “How to Be an Antiracist”
  •  Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations 
  • "Where Do We Go From Here?” Part 1 & Part 2 
  • Code Switch, NPR 
  • Pod Save the People, DeRay Mckesson 
  • Scene on Radio: Season 2 (“Seeing White,” 14 Part Series) 

Instagram Accounts to Follow

  • @laylafsaad
  • @racismrecoverycenter
  • @theconsciouskid
  • @thegreatunlearn
  • @austinchanning
  • @readlikearockstar
  • @iamrachelricketts
  • @nedratawwab
  • @taranajaneen
  • @rachel.cargle
  • @ijeomaoluo
  • @speakingofracism

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