‘To be silent is to be complicit,’ Texas Nurses Association takes on racism

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It was her mother’s idea. She thought Dr. Joyce Tolofari had a gift when it came to caring for people. 

It would take a friend who was a nurse to convince her to go to nursing school. Now 20-years later, she’s teaching aspiring students during a pandemic and unrest across the country. 

“It is so important to have varied voices,” explained Dr. Tolofari who is an associate professor of Professional Nursing at Austin Community College. “African-American nurses, minority nurses, nurses of all races… our patients are varied, they come from all cultures.”

Dr. Tolofari migrated from Nigeria decades ago, and said a lot of has changed since she began her career. She recalled the lack of African American nurses who were supervisors. 

“There are changes going on and policies that are being put in place to protect or prevent racism, but there’s still more to be done.” explained Dr. Tolofari.

Dr. Tolofari is a board member of the Texas Nurses Association. The association is speaking out against racism and systemic inequality. 

“TNA encourages all nurses to learn, listen, and dialogue as we work to address the issues that lead to so many needless deaths in communities of color,” said a tweet pinned on the association’s Twitter account.

“This is core to our ethics. It’s human rights so we cannot stand on the sidelines,” explained Dr. Cindy Zolnierek, CEO of the Texas Nurses Association. “To be silent is to be complicit. So, we have a role in this. We have a role to play in advancing human rights – in advancing health care.”

The association, which represents nurses across the state, is hosting a panel this week which will include black nurses sharing their experiences. TNA is also launching a series of webinars that will focus on unconscious bias to help build awareness. 

“When there are pockets of populations and communities that experience disparities and many of those are due to structural racism, and the chronic stress of that racist experience contributes to a lot of morbidities,” said Dr. Zolnierek. “We’re very concerned and interested in being responsive to populations and communities that experience disparities.”

According to the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies, out of more than 243,000 registered nurses in 2018, 13% were black. 

The association said there are efforts to recruit African American nurses and work with them toward leadership roles. 

“The more we have representation of all types of leadership in our hospitals and facilities, then the better we will be in serving each other,” said Tolofari “our nurses and serving our patients.”

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