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Study: Three-Quarters of Asian Nurses Experience Discrimination, Burnout

Andrea Wickstrom, BSN, RN, PHN
Updated September 26, 2023
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    Study finds anti-Asian racism and workplace discrimination in nursing lead to nurse burnout. Nursing students begin to experience racism in nursing school.
    Tired nurse writing in hospital at nightCredit: Getty Images/ImaZinS RF
    • An increased number of Asian nurses surveyed reported experiencing workplace discrimination and racism.
    • Study authors indicate discrimination contributes to nurse burnout.
    • For many nurses, racism from patients, nurses, and instructors begins in nursing school.

    In a recent JAMA study, three-quarters of U.S. nurses of Asian descent reported job harassment, unfair treatment, or feeling “invisible” in the workplace within the past year. Perceived discriminatory behaviors included racial and ethnic slurs and a lack of professional advancement.

    The same nurses also reported deep feelings of burnout — feelings study authors said were exacerbated by the discrimination.

    The study surveyed 236 nurses descending from East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Hawaii, Guam, and Samoa and other Pacific Islands.

    “Our findings in this study contribute to the growing empirical evidence indicating that racial discrimination plays a substantial role in burnout among Asian nurses,” wrote study first author Jin Jun, Ph.D., RN, a nurse and researcher with the Center for Healthy Aging, Self-Management and Complex Care at The Ohio State University College of Nursing, and her colleagues.

    Nurse Discrimination and Burnout: The Study Data

    Nurses in the study reported that racism adversely affected their well-being and experiences at work.

    “Workplace discrimination is associated with a detrimental decrease in the well-being of Asian nurses, highlighting the issue of anti-Asian racism,” Jun and colleagues wrote. “Building a knowledge base presents an opportunity as an initial step toward integrating and engaging Asian nurses in antiracism efforts within the workplace.”

    In addition to the primary finding showing that 75% of Asian nurses reported workplace discrimination, other key findings included:

    • Those who revealed frequent discrimination at work were more likely to have burnout than those who experienced infrequent discrimination.
    • Forty-two percent of respondents reported definite or complete burnout.
    • Respondents who primarily spoke English were more likely to report burnout than those who primarily spoke their native language. According to the study authors, this suggests potential cultural or linguistic associations with burnout.
    • Working more than 40 hours a week was associated with an increased likelihood of burnout.
    • Asian nurses reported an increase in discrimination since the COVID-19 pandemic, which famously inflamed anti-Asian sentiment in the United States.

    Researchers collected data on individual and work demographics, primary language, cultural identity, and nurse-to-nurse teamwork. Notably, many of the study respondents held advanced degrees.

    Asian Nurse Discrimination: An Ongoing Issue

    This is not the first time a recent study has uncovered discrimination among U.S. nurses — and nursing students — of Asian descent.

    Another 2023 study found that 40% of nurses experienced racism while in nursing school, reporting that it was a part of their school culture. Over half of Asian students, along with Black and Hispanic students, were more likely to experience microaggressions than white students. (Microaggressions are more subtle forms of discrimination, with indirect expressions of hostility.)

    Not only do Asian nurses experience biases from their colleagues, but their patients display prejudice toward them as well. Many are also subject to higher performance expectations and stereotypical name-calling.

    The COVID-19 pandemic and its negative association with Asian people have apparently added to an already growing problem. Another study published suggests microaggressions against Asian-American nursing students have increased since the outbreak of coronavirus. Students described various microaggressions (such as ‘side-eyes’ and verbal assaults) from patients, nurses, and clinical instructors.

    The authors of the JAMA study acknowledged that larger studies are needed to confirm the phenomenon. Nevertheless, the results “reflect a significant amount of anti-Asian racism in the U.S.,” Jun and colleagues wrote.