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Social Justice and Health

  • What is public health?

Why should I care?

Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal rights and opportunities — this includes the right to good health. Yet today, there are inequities in health that are avoidable, unnecessary and unjust. These inequities are the result of policies and practices that create an unequal distribution of money, power and resources among communities based on race, class, gender, place and other factors. To assure that everyone has the opportunity to attain their highest level of health, we must address the social determinants of health AND equity.

Racism and other forms of structured inequity sap our potential to become the healthiest nation. Racism is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value to individuals and communities based on race that unfairly disadvantages some individuals and unfairly advantages others. Racism and other “isms” are forces that determine the distribution of the social determinants of health, including:

Health care —  More than 30% of direct medical costs faced by U.S. Blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans can be tied to health inequities. Because of inequitable access to care and other health-promoting resources, these populations are often sicker when they do find a source of care and incur higher medical costs. That 30% translates to more than $230 billion over a four-year period. In addition, studies have shown that clinicians tend to have more negative attitudes toward people of color, and unconscious racial bias among clinicians has been shown to lead to poorer communication and lower quality of care.

Criminal justice — Thirty years of “tough on crime” and “war on drugs” public policies have resulted in mass incarceration of primarily Black and Hispanic males. This discrimination and inequity undermines the social and community fabric that is so vital to public health, narrowing opportunity, disrupting families and social cohesion, and preventing civic participation.

Voting rights —  In recent years, there has been a resurgence of activities that make it harder for people to exercise their right to vote, especially in communities of color. Since 2010, about half of the states have passed new laws making it more difficult for voters to access the ballot box.

What can I do?

Name and address racism . Acknowledge racism as a system of structured inequity and not an individual character flaw. Name racism as a determining force in the distribution of the social determinants of health and equity. Identify the structures, policies, practices, norms and values in which racism may be operating.

Start a conversation about health equity  within your agency or organization. Health equity is more than one intervention; it’s a lens through which all of your work should be viewed. Foster an open and honest dialogue within your agency (and ideally with your community partners) about historical injustices and present-day racism, bias and inequity and how they contribute to disparate health outcomes. Use tools such as the documentary “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?” to jumpstart the conversation.

Promote a health-in-all-policies approach and ensure an equity lens. Seek partnerships across sectors such as transportation, housing, education and law enforcement. Work with these partners to ensure that health and equity are embedded in their decision-making process. All of these sectors and many more have a role in creating the conditions that enable all people and communities to attain and sustain good health.

Demand the fair allocation of community resources. Creating health equity requires targeted investment in marginalized and under-resourced communities. Ensure representation of these groups in decision-making processes.

Fight against the trend of growing voter restrictions. Everyone needs a voice in improving our communities, and such community participation is intrinsic to achieving health equity. Educate community members about the importance of civic engagement and encourage their participation in grassroots advocacy efforts.

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Home / Essay Samples / Sociology / Individual and Society / Social Justice

Social Justice in Healthcare

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Individual and Society

Social Justice

  • Words: 610 (1 page)

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Table of Contents

Introduction, understanding social inequities, equitable access to care, cultural competency and inclusivity, addressing health disparities, collaborative efforts.

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Writing help, paraphrasing tool, social justice in healthcare: bridging disparities and fostering equity.

  • Health Care , Health Care Policy , Social Justice

How it works

Relevance and Meaning Social justice in healthcare refer to the equitable distribution of medical resources that ensures everyone has fair access to medical care regardless of financial background, color, or ethnicity. It stands for the notion that everyone is naturally entitled to the highest physical and mental health levels.

  • Societies flourish when every member can contribute productively.
  • Economic burdens are reduced due to a healthier, more efficient workforce.
  • Social cohesion improves, fostering unity, trust, understanding, and collaboration.

Addressing Social Determinants for Holistic Healthcare

Social justice in healthcare doesn’t end at the doctor’s office or the hospital bed. By targeting and improving these determinants, we could make vast strides in ensuring everyone receives the care they deserve. For instance:

  • Community Programs: Initiatives that focus on creating safer neighborhoods, improving public transportation, and offering affordable housing can have ripple effects on health.
  • Education Initiatives: Programs emphasizing the importance of early education, adult literacy, and continuous learning can pave the way for better health outcomes.
  • Economic Policies: Implementing fair wage practices, providing job training, and ensuring social safety nets could alleviate many health-related challenges tied to financial instability.
  • Moreover, it’s essential to recognize that while immediate healthcare access and quality are paramount, the broader societal framework plays a significant role in health outcomes. Addressing these underlying determinants is crucial in our journey towards genuinely equitable healthcare.

Current Challenges and Disparities

In many regions, systemic barriers impede individuals from getting the necessary medical attention, leading to a cycle of health disparities. Overcoming these barriers requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses healthcare infrastructure and the broader socio-cultural dynamics at play.

Access to healthcare Access is about more than just proximity to healthcare facilities. Moreover, it entails:

  • Affordability
  • Timely services
  • Quality of care
  • Cultural competency

Socioeconomic disparities. The gaps in healthcare access often reflect more profound socioeconomic disparities, where the less affluent struggle to afford treatments or basic health insurance.

Racial and ethnic disparities Historical prejudices and biases play a role too. Certain racial and ethnic groups often face the following:

  • Lower quality of care
  • Reduced access to services
  • Stigmatization or cultural insensitivity
  • Spreading awareness about disparities
  • Organizing local health campaigns
  • Collaborating with health providers for community-specific programs

Technology and innovation. Digital health platforms, telemedicine, and artificial intelligence (like predictive analysis tools) could bridge gaps. They are making healthcare much more accessible and truly personalized.

Ensuring social justice in healthcare is a shared responsibility. Everyone has a role, from policymakers to healthcare professionals and community leaders to individuals. It involves not only money and law but also a change in attitude. The first step is recognizing that health is a fundamental human right, not a privilege. By collaborating to ensure that every member has an equal chance of leading a healthy life, societies can develop physically and spiritually healthy communities.

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Nursing is a health equity and social justice movement


  • 1 School of Nursing, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA.
  • PMID: 33813764
  • DOI: 10.1111/phn.12905

Nursing has been grounded in the pursuit of health equity and social justice for over 100 years. Escalating health care costs, COVID-19, and racial conflict have spotlighted the impact of our social and health inequities and the interconnectedness of everyone's health. This study discusses two key nursing movements for health and social justice, the public health nursing movement and the nurse practitioner movement. This study also describes how the re-emerging focus on population health nursing and the increasing nurse activism are building on our history of addressing the social and environmental root causes of ill health. Changes in health care design, delivery, and payment will create more opportunities for population health nursing to continue nursing's long-standing efforts in pursuit of health equity and social justice.

Keywords: health disparities; nursing education; nursing history; population-based nursing; public health nursing practice; social justice.

© 2021 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

  • Health Equity*
  • Social Justice*

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Health and social justice

Jennifer prah ruger.

a Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, School of Medicine, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA

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4 years into the new millennium, the health of the world's citizens is remarkably uneven. A child born today in Japan, for example, can expect to live to age 82 years on average, whereas it is unlikely that a newborn infant in Zimbabwe will reach his or her 34th birthday. 1 Over several decades, scientific progress has expanded our ability to improve human health, and many regions of the world have achieved significant health gains. Yet extreme deprivation in health is still widespread. Resolving this predicament of major health improvement in the midst of deprivation is one of the greatest global challenges of the new millennium.

These health disparities exist in a world that is becoming more closely linked in all domains, including health. The rapid spread and quick containment of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) demonstrates the interconnectedness of our world as well as any recent health phenomenon. The same trend can be seen with HIV/AIDS and the potential to link solutions and best practices studied in one part of the globe with persistent health problems in another.

In the midst of such rapid global change and persistent health disparities, we need to revisit and underscore the moral and philosophical foundations for health improvement activities—to give them more forceful grounding and solidity. In this essay, I briefly survey some traditional philosophies of justice and health care. I then offer an alternative view of justice and health that is rooted in Amartya Sen's capability approach and Aristotle's political theory, and discuss the implications of this approach for health improvement across the globe.

Philosophical foundations

Theories of social justice (eg, fair and equitable treatment of people) have typically focused on justifying health care (medicine and public health) as a special social good. Rationalising greater equality in health care is typically the point of departure for most approaches to medical ethics (bioethics), even for approaches that include health assessment. In general, less attention has been paid to universal concerns of social justice with respect to health itself. This essay focuses on the question of why health, as opposed to health care, has special moral importance for social justice in health improvement activities. I also analyse the implications of equity in health and health care.

Philosophical theories have been reluctant to give health (by contrast with health care) special moral importance for at least one primary reason: they share the assumption that health is not an appropriate focal variable for assessing social justice. Egalitarian theories, for example, “propose that persons be provided an equal distribution of certain goods such as health care, but all prominent egalitarian theories of justice are cautiously formulated to avoid making equal sharing of all possible social benefits a requirement of justice”. 2 Utilitarian theories, although consequentialist (eg, assessing states of affairs or actions in terms of their consequences), focus on the space of “utilities” (satisfaction, desire fulfilment, preference), 3 whereas communitarian approaches focus on community values, 4 rather than on health itself. Liberal theories of justice are disinclined to focus on health because, as John Rawls purports in his book, A theory of justice, natural goods like health are not included as social values or social primary goods (eg, “liberty and opportunity, income and wealth and the bases of self-respect”) that are “things that every rational man is presumed to want.” 5 He adds that “health and vigor, intelligence and imagination, are natural goods; although their possession is influenced by the basic structure, they are not so directly under its control.” 5 Thus, according to Rawls, health is not one of the social primary goods that should be “distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any, or all, of these values is to everyone's advantage.” 5 Although he discusses basic health care later in his book, Law of Peoples, Rawls does not include health in the list of social primary goods subject to distributive principles.

Norman Daniels argues that, “health is an inappropriate object, but health care, action which promotes health, is appropriate.” 6 He and others emphasise that “… a right claim to equal health is best construed as a demand for equality of access or entitlement to health services …”, 6 and note that a “‘right to health’ embodies a confusion about the kind of thing which can be the object of a right claim”. 6 Such reasoning illustrates the strong bias against health as a focal variable in current ethical theory.

A capability view of health

A contrasting argument is that health has special moral importance because of its status as an end of political and societal activity. According to Aristotle, society's obligation to maintain and improve health rests on the ethical principle of “human flourishing” 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 —the ability to live a flourishing, and thus healthy, life. 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 Flourishing and health are inherent to the human condition. 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 Indeed, certain aspects of health sustain all other aspects of human flourishing because, without being alive, no other human functionings are possible, including agency, the ability to lead a life one has reason to value. 12 , 13 , 14 It can be argued, therefore, that public policy should focus on the ability to function, and that health policy should aim to maintain and improve this ability by meeting health needs. 15 , 16 This view values health intrinsically and more directly than solely “instrumental” social goods, such as income or health care. It gives special moral importance to health capability: an individual's opportunity to achieve good health and thus to be free from escapable morbidity and preventable mortality. 15 , 16

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Cass Sunstein

This line of reasoning—focusing on human capability—contrasts with the idea that health care is special because of its impact on equality of opportunity. 6 It also differs from the utilitarian view that health care is important for maximising the sum total of utilities and from procedural views that focus on guaranteed due process. The distinction between these approaches is rooted in the different points of focus that these theories support. Capability describes what individuals are able to do and be, offering a realistic sense of their freedom to pursue the lives they have reason to value. Thus, society is morally obligated to attach importance to averting or ameliorating loss in physical functioning even if a person's subjective utility assessment is quite high and even if opportunity of employment is still possible. In short, a person's ability to function, rather than to be happy or to have employment opportunities, should be the gauge for assessing public policy.

A capability view of health also includes human agency (ie, people's ability to live a life they value). 17 , 18 Although health directly affects the ability to exercise agency, agency influences health as well. For example, the ability to lead the life one values can improve one's mental health or well-being. Conversely, the ability to make unhealthy choices can degrade one's health status. Enabling individuals to exercise their agency—both individually and collectively—enables them to prioritise and decide which health domains they value most (eg, to trade-off quality and quantity of life) and to choose what health services they would like to consume (eg, making choices among treatment options).

The exercise of human agency can occur at both the individual and collective levels. Individual agency is important in decisions about health habits and risks, lifestyle, individual priorities, and decisions about treatment options. Collective agency is more important at the policy level, where open discussion and collective decision-making influence policy and resource allocation. This relates to the “process” aspect of freedom in the capability approach. 14

Policy implications

There are several sets of policy implications related to a capability view of health. First, the distinction between a capability approach to health and other well-known ethical approaches has implications for assessing social inequalities and for evaluating the effects of social policy on broader health determinants. Health care is not the only health determinant, as Michael Marmot and his colleagues' work has shown, 19 and one must not assume that more and better health care is all that is needed to improve health. The main impact of health care may depend on the type of care and sometimes on other factors. This places both health and health policy in a larger policy context and requires a greater understanding of social justice. 15 , 16 Thus, health and its determinants must be valued against other social ends in a broader public exercise of policy priorities. This exercise should be inclusive and democratic and should represent a process of public reasoning about the ends and means of public policy more broadly and about health policy specifically.

Second, although health care is only one of many health determinants, its influence on health should not be denied. Thus, health care is important and therefore, special, due to its role in influencing health and it must be socially guaranteed. It must be socially guaranteed in a manner that is consistent with improving health overall and reducing health inequalities that are attributable to health care—not in terms of equality in health care delivery (equal amounts or types), irrespective of health consequences.

Third, a capability view of health does not specify which type of health care (eg, a list or basic benefits package) should be guaranteed and to what level. Rather, it recognises the need for further specification through a democratic process that combines both procedural and substantive principles. Substantively, Sen's notion of “basic capabilities” provides guidance since this formulation generally implies that societal efforts be made to bring each individual's health functioning as close as possible to (or above) a certain level of minimal normal functioning (in so far as an individual's circumstances permit). “Basic capabilities” include the ability to avoid escapable morbidity and premature and preventable mortality. Premature mortality implies placing special emphasis on efforts to avert deaths from preventable causes that do not allow individuals to live a life of normal length (eg, a child dying of AIDS). On the question of how much priority should be given to society's worst-off individuals, this view promotes the use of “public reasoning” to forge a compromise between strict maximisation and prioritisation.

Fourth, this “process aspect” of freedom in the capability approach has implications for how health-related policy is made. It emphasises an individual's ability to participate in broad public-policy decision-making (eg, in prioritising between environmental and health care programmes) and in health policy decision-making (eg, in prioritising domains of health and health care for resource allocation). A democratic process can help define a comprehensive package of health benefits to which all should have equal access, and it can help prioritise different types of health care in efforts to maintain and improve health with the fewest possible resources. Such a process is not merely instrumental, however, since its justification lies in the concept that individuals should have the capability to participate in decision-making that affects them, such as about the goods and services that society will guarantee to them.

Fifth, the equity implications of access to those goods and services cannot be separated from the equity implications of financing them, because the capability principle requires that resources be allocated on the basis of medical need, not ability to pay. The costs of health-related goods and services directly affect health by reducing the demand for necessary health care or by increasing consumption of unnecessary care. Leaving people vulnerable to economic barriers therefore would fail to reduce deprivations in health. Additionally, the uncertainty of health need, the catastrophic costs of medical care, and the risk-averse nature of individuals places risk pooling (eg, through insurance) at the centre of health-care financing. 20 An expensive medical event can prevent access to health care or be a primary cause of financial ruin. From a capability point of view, “protective security”, 14 through health insurance, is a necessary safety net. And the economic burden of health care should be justly shared by all through the redistribution of funds from the well to the ill and the rich to the poor, using progressive financing and community rating. 21

Sixth, one of the most difficult tasks in applying an ethical framework that values health intrinsically is the conceptualisation and measurement of health and inequalities in its many domains. There are many approaches to measuring health equity. As Sudhir Anand and colleagues have shown, 22 the choice depends on numerous considerations, ranging from health domains to the weights attached to those domains. 22 Another consideration is the choice of groups for stratification. 22 Even within the capability perspective, one would need to determine what set of inequality measures would be most appropriate for a given exercise, although certain types of inequality assessment—for example, a goal of complete “health equality” (levelling down to lowest common denominator)—have less appeal than others. And certain health equity evaluations—for example, deciding how much priority to give the “worst-off”—will undoubtedly require public reasoning about values imbedded in the health equity concept. Although the capability view of health does not come down on an exact formula for judging inequalities in health, Sen has noted the potential use of “partial ordering” (eg, ordering some alternatives as opposed to ordering them all) of health states for assessing relative inequalities. In a collective exercise, incomplete theorisation may facilitate evaluation in health policy. 15 , 16 , 23

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Gro Harlem Brundtland at the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,2002

Incompletely theorised agreements

Incomplete theorisation is useful to a theory of health and social justice because it provides a framework for understanding collective decision-making on human goods that are plural and indistinct (such as health and inequality), and allows individuals to take divergent paths to a common, though often partial, agreement. It describes how people with divergent, even opposing, views on health, equity, and health-policy issues might reach agreement in specific situations and thus generate health-policy decisions that are legitimate and stable and reflect mutual respect. 15 , 16 , 23 The method of reaching agreement described here is called incompletely theorised agreements, developed by Cass Sunstein, 24 and it holds promise for health-policy decision-making at several levels. 15 , 16 , 23

An incompletely theorised agreement is one that is not uniformly theorised at all levels, from high-level justifications to low-level particulars. It complements and extends the capability approach by providing a framework for operationalising the capability approach at three or more levels. The first level is the conceptual level, which specifies the valuable functionings that constitute human flourishing and health. The second level is the policy level, which specifies policies and laws. The third level is the intervention level, which specifies actions in particular cases and decisions about medical treatments, public-health interventions or social services. This framework constitutes three different types of incompletely theorised agreements: incompletely specified agreements, incompletely specified and generalised agreements, and incompletely theorised agreements on particular outcomes.

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Models of incompletely theorised agreements

Incompletely specified agreements

The first type of incompletely theorised agreement occurs when there is agreement on a general principle but sharp disagreement about particular cases. People who accept a general principle, such as the illegality of murder, need not agree on the application of this principle to particular cases. For example, they could disagree about whether abortion should be classified as murder. 24 This first type of agreement is closely connected to Rawls' “overlapping consensus”. In the health-policy context, citizens might agree on cost-effectiveness as a general principle, but also agree that β interferon, a drug that helps some individuals with multiple sclerosis, should be provided to such patients even though its cost per quality-adjusted life year (QALY) ranges from US$35 000 to $20 million, or agree that kidney dialysis should be provided despite its exorbitant cost for relatively small improvements in health-related quality of life.

Incompletely specified and generalised agreements

The second type of incomplete theorisation occurs when people agree on a mid-level principle but disagree about both the more general theory that accounts for it and outcomes in particular controversies. Here, Sunstein argues that the connections between the general theory and mid-level principles and also between specific cases and mid-level principles are unclear. 24 In the health policy context, citizens might agree that all should have access to life saving interventions, but disagree on both the underlying theoretical doctrine for this view and on whether all life saving interventions at all stages of life should be provided.

Incompletely theorised agreements on particular outcomes

This third type of incompletely theorised agreement describes how people reach agreement on particular public policy options. In this model, agreement is reached on low-level principles that are not necessarily derived from a particular high-level theory of the right or the good. In fact, the same low-level principles may be compatible with more than one high-level theory because people may disagree on or not fully understand a relatively high-level abstraction while agreeing on “a point of less generality”.

In such contexts, people “can know that X is true without entirely knowing why X is true.” 24 The emphasis here is on not knowing something entirely—completely theorising it from high to low levels. People might agree, for instance, that governments should prevent famine, eradicate malaria or tuberculosis, and not condone genital mutilation, but they might not know exactly why they hold such beliefs. This reasoning might be both moral and reasonable, but the deliberators might not explicitly state that their decision is derived from an underlying theory, even though it certainly might be informed by a lower level conception of the good life they articulated. This aspect of the framework complements the capability approach's emphasis on partial agreements and on identifying workable solutions that make the most of consensus and that can be “based on the contingent acceptance of particular provisions, without demanding complete social unanimity”. 14

Thus, in matters of public decision-making about health and health policy, the incomplete theorisation framework is useful in furthering a capability approach to health. 15 , 16 First, health, and thus health capabilities, is a multidimensional concept about which different people might have different, and sometimes conflicting, views, especially at an epistemological level. This heterogeneity makes complete theorisation difficult to achieve. Second, there might be no view of health, and thus health capabilities, that is ideal for all evaluative purposes; therefore, the pragmatism of the incomplete ordering of the capability approach and the incompletely theorised agreement on that ordering of the incomplete theorisation approach allows for reasoned public-policy decision-making in the face of multiple, and even conflicting, views on health. Third, there could be no single quantitative scale for comparing health capabilities and the inequalities in them; deviations in individuals' capability for functioning may occur in different domains of health capability that may not be quantifiably comparable. For example, one cannot quantifiably compare one individual's inability to hear or see with another's inability to bear children or to walk. These reductions in individuals' capabilities for functioning are qualitatively different and different people will have widely diverging views on which functional capability reduction is better or worse than the other. Thus, a framework for articulating and agreeing upon a conception of health functioning for prioritising health goods and services is required. Given the demands of policy evaluation in particular contexts, the combined approaches also allow reasoned agreement on central aspects of health and their respective capabilities without requiring people to agree on non-central aspects or fully understand their beliefs.

Global health institutions

What do these philosophical arguments imply for global health institutions? Global health institutions have important roles in the implementation of a capability approach to health because they can help generate and disseminate the knowledge and information required to reduce health disparities. For example, they can help create new technologies (eg, an HIV/AIDS vaccine), transfer, adapt, and apply existing knowledge (eg, prevention of malaria transmission), manage knowledge and information (eg, statistics on inequality in infant/child mortality and best practices), and help countries develop information and research capacity 25 , 26 (eg, health surveillance and information systems).

Global health institutions can also empower individuals and groups in national and global forums. Indirectly, they can push for greater citizen participation in health-related decision-making in developing countries, both within (eg, in determining resource allocation) and outside the health sector. Since greater empowerment in the health sector is built on more democratic governance overall, reform of state and social institutions may be needed to achieve these goals. And encouraging the political will for public action to reduce health inequalities will be essential. Global health institutions, particularly WHO and World Bank, can help governments improve the public administration needed to deliver quality health care to all. They should also give individuals and groups a greater voice in national and international forums and programmes, such as a health-sector loan or an international tobacco-control agreement, and engage more with civil society and the private sector.

Global health institutions can also provide technical assistance, financial aid, and global advocacy to support the development of equitable and efficient health systems and public health programmes. This assistance can occur at the macro level (eg, standardising diagnostic categories) or the micro level (eg, providing antiretroviral medicines for AIDS patients). Some global health institutions (eg, WHO) have tended to organise around specific diseases (HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, polio, and SARS), whereas others such as the World Bank have favoured sector-wide initiatives. Although both perspectives are valuable, greater coordination among policy actors is essential. Such efforts should build on existing work such as the Rockefeller Foundation's global health equity initiative. 27

Finally, global health institutions should be linked to other institutions in a coordinated and integrated way. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), for example, recognises the importance of integrating public policies into a comprehensive set of health improvement strategies. Through the FCTC, ministries of health and health-related associations, such as physician groups, are united with ministries of finance, economic planning, taxation, labour, industry, and education as well as with citizen groups and the private sector, to create a multisectoral national and international tobacco-control effort. The FCTC represents a growing trend in development policy toward an alternative paradigm that is broad, integrated, and multifaceted. 14 , 17 , 28 , 29 , 30 , 31 Adopting a multifaceted and integrated approach to health improvement requires rejecting a narrow view of health and its determinants and the philosophical foundations that support such a view.


I thank Amartya Sen, Sudhir Anand, Michael Marmot, and participants in the workshop on Rights, Dignity, and Inequality at Trinity College, Cambridge, UK, for helpful comments. I also thank Washington University School of Medicine and Center for Health Policy for support. J P Ruger is supported in part by a Career Development Award (grant 1K01DA016358–01) from the US National Institutes of Health.

Social Justice in Nursing Practice

Introduction, choice of a social injustice issue, leadership skills and qualities to promote social justice, nurses’ role in promoting social justice.

Social justice is a concept that is crucial for every person’s well-being. Scholars have examined social justice in diverse fields, including sociology and ethnic studies (Valderama‐Wallace & Apesoa‐Varano, 2019). Many people face discrimination based on racial, ethnic, educational, and several other differences and the promotion of social justice is critical in minimizing unjust treatment. Specialists in the nursing profession espouse social justice, and nurses are compelled to act when observing inequities (Horrill et al., 2020). Nurses are expected to redress the inequitable distribution of healthcare access to ensure social justice for each person within society (Horrill et al., 2020). Access to healthcare can be characterized by the ability to obtain healthcare services and the delivery of healthcare (Horrill et al., 2020). To ensure that people have equal access to high-quality care, healthcare leaders need to take more responsibility. This paper aims to recognize a social issue related to the nursing profession and determine the leadership skills required to manage the issue.

Providing people with high-quality medical care is the basis of a healthy society. However, the Canadian healthcare system is characterized by several social issues, one of them being Indigenous health. However, Canada’s health care is one of the superior ones globally, Indigenous peoples in the country encounter inequity and face poor health outcomes (Brockie et al., 2021; Horrill et al., 2020). Social injustice regarding Indigenous health is important since it refers to both receiving medical services and delivering them (Brockie et al., 2021; Horrill et al., 2020). More nurses with leadership skills are needed to enhance Indigenous peoples’ opportunities within the healthcare system.

Nurses play a significant role in addressing the social issues of Indigenous health. Nurses in Canada comprise the largest group of healthcare professionals and frequently work directly with patients in various settings such as hospitals, workplaces, schools, and different communities (Horrill et al., 2020). Therefore, nurses often encounter Indigenous patients in their practice and have opportunities to provide them with high-quality care (Horrill et al., 2020). However, whether intentionally or not, nurses participate in preventing Indigenous peoples from receiving appropriate care (Horrill et al., 2020). Although access to health care is typically associated with geographical location, it can refer to social inaccessibility and lead to breaking basic human rights (Horrill et al., 2020). Indigenous health is an issue due to racism and biases, social exclusion, and the forcible relocation of Indigenous peoples (Horrill et al., 2020). The listed reasons lead to negative experiences with health care providers, reluctance to seek care or avoid it entirely, and feeling socially unsafe and demeaned (Horrill et al., 2020). Indigenous health is endangered because of several societal problems, which affect nurses’ main purpose of helping.

Indigenous peoples within the nursing profession represent another side of the issue. While Indigenous nurses are the largest part of the Indigenous health workforce, only 3% of regulated Canadian nurses are Indigenous, with many of them facing racial prejudice at work (Brockie et al., 2021). Indigenous peoples’ education and career opportunities in nursing are limited, have little influence, and lack resources and the contributions of employed nurses are rarely reported (Brockie et al., 2021). As a result, Indigenous nurses are negated, systematic discrimination is not resolved, and the healthcare system fails to maintain a diverse workforce and meet patients’ needs (Brockie et al., 2021). The World Health Organization recognizes the significance of social justice concerning racism and discrimination, and the inferior treatment of Indigenous nurses threatens their human rights (Brockie et al., 2021). In addition to Indigenous peoples having limited access to high-quality medical care, Indigenous nurses have difficulties during education and at the workplace, jeopardizing the healthcare system.

Various skills are needed to prepare leaders among nurses and promote social justice. Canadian Nursing Association’s (CNA) position statement outlines skills that are essential for nurse leaders (Canadian Nursing Association [CNA], n.d.). Firstly, a nurse leader needs to be an articulate communicator (CNA, n.d.) Brockie et al. (2021) state that nurses can be agents of social change and must speak for Indigenous peoples to provide better medical care. Following that, nurses must obtain collaborative skills, and health equity can be achieved by collaborating with Indigenous groups and organizations worldwide (Brockie et al., 2021; CNA, n.d.). As Indigenous peoples often get discriminated against, they become silenced, and nurse leaders are responsible for communicating people’s rights by cooperating with those in power.

Several more skills are crucial in nursing leadership and addressing Indigenous health. Leaders in the nursing profession must be role models and visionaries, and they can employ these abilities by exposing inequities, changing policies, developing non-racist care, and recruiting Indigenous nurses (Brockie et al., 2021; CNA, n.d.). Furthermore, nurse leaders need to advocate for quality and safety in providing care, and Indigenous nurses are considered pivotal in ensuring culturally safe healthcare services (Brockie et al., 2021; CNA, n.d.). A nurse leader should be a role model by providing an example to others with a practice that is focused on quality care.

Biases within society cause the risk to Indigenous health, which consequences in workplace discrimination and limited health care services, requiring an action plan. The nurse’s role in promoting social justice is recognizing health equity as a core value and strengthening the idea that health care is equally accessible to everyone (Horrill et al., 2020). Leadership skills are important on a personal level and for nursing in general because, in addition to CNA’s position statement, leadership requires self-knowledge, respect, and trust (College of Nurses of Ontario [CNO], 2018). CNA’s leadership skills align with the College of Nurses of Ontario’s (CNO) Code of Conduct in providing patients with high-quality care and collaborating with other professionals (CNO, 2019a). The Code of Conduct represents the accountabilities of nurses and states they have to appreciate patients’ dignity, work respectfully with colleagues, and act with integrity (CNO, 2019a). Finally, one should remember the CNO’s statement that all nurses are leaders in all practice settings at all times (CNO, 2019b). As nurses can be everyday leaders in any position, they are obliged to promote social justice and prevent inequities.

Nurses need to be trained in leadership to address the issue of Indigenous health and promote social justice. The social problem exists because of racism and biases within society and represents the unjust treatment of Indigenous peoples as patients and nurses. Leaders in the nursing profession need to provide an example with their work, assure high-quality care and patient safety, collaborate, and communicate to guarantee that the healthcare system meets Indigenous people’s needs. By addressing an issue such as Indigenous health, nurse leaders can begin changes and guide the way toward social justice.

Brockie, T., Clark, T. C., Best, O., Power, T., Bourque Bearskin, L., Kurtz, D. L., & Wilson, D. (2021). Indigenous social exclusion to inclusion: Case studies on Indigenous nursing leadership in four high income countries. Journal of Clinical Nursing , 1-15. Web.

Canadian Nurses Association. (n.d.). Nursing leadership CNA Position. Web.

College of Nurses of Ontario. (2018). Professional standards . Web.

College of Nurses of Ontario. (2019a). Code of conduct . Web.

College of Nurses of Ontario. (2019b). When nurses lead, patients are safer . Web.

Horrill, T. C., Martin, D. E., Lavoie, J. G., & Schultz, A. S. (2020). Nurses as agents of disruption: Operationalizing a framework to redress inequities in healthcare access among Indigenous Peoples. Nursing Inquiry, 28 (3), 1-14. Web.

Valderama‐Wallace, C. P., & Apesoa‐Varano, E. C. (2019). “Social justice is a dream”: Tensions and contradictions in nursing education. Public Health Nursing, 36 (5), 735-743. Web.

143 Social Justice Essay Topics & Examples

⭐ top 10 social justice issues to write about, 🏆 best social justice topic ideas & essay examples, ⭐ simple & easy social justice essay titles, 📌 most interesting social justice topics to write about, 👍 good social justice research topics, ❓ research questions about social justice, 💯 free social justice essay topic generator.

Social justice essays are an excellent tool for demonstrating your awareness of the current issues in society.

Inequality in society should be addressed, and social justice advocates are at the forefront of such initiatives. Everyone should be able to achieve their goals and dreams if they put in the effort, assuming of course that reaching that target is at all possible.

To that end, you should ask various social justice essay questions and investigate different situations, particularly those that surround marginalized communities.

While the civil rights movement has succeeded in eliminating discriminatory policies and gender segregation, people should remain vigilant so that inequality again.

There are many topics you can discuss in your essay, but is better to focus on something specific and conduct a detailed investigation. It is easy to take some examples of data that shows a situation that seems unequal and declare that the system is flawed.

However, the data may be inaccurate, and the causes may be different from what you initially perceive them to be. Many fields will be too small for statistic laws to apply, and so there will be a temporary prevalence of people with a specific trait.

Declarations of premature conclusions and calls to action based on these conjectures are not productive and will generally lead to harm.

Be sure to consider evidence from both sides when discussing the topic of injustice, especially in its sensitive applications.

The case of police officers and the racial disparity in arrests is a prominent example, as there is significant disagreement, and neither side can be considered entirely correct.

At other times, unequal treatments may be explained by racial and gender differences without the application of discriminatory practices, particularly with regards to cultural practices.

The importance of justice is above debate, but it is not always about declaring one side correct while the other is wrong and at fault. Humanity operates best when it is unified and follows the same purpose of fairness.

Lastly, try to avoid confusing equality with equity, as the two social justice essay topics are significantly different. The former involves similar starting conditions and opportunities for all people, though they will likely achieve varying successes in life.

The latter means equality of outcomes, meaning that the unsuccessful receive support, which logically has to come at the expense of those who succeed.

You may support either position, with equality being a more traditional concept that seems logical to many people and equity being considered effective at improving the conditions of marginalized communities. However, make your position clear, as the difference is critical and informs your personal concept of social justice.

Here are some additional tips for your paper:

  • Separate the points you make in your essay with social justice essay titles. These titles will help the reader navigate the paper and understand your main claims.
  • Try to introduce original ideas instead of contributing to ongoing debates. An essay does not allow enough space to let you add something that will change the situation to such discussions.
  • The topic of social justice is inherently political, as most suggestions will involve policy-level changes. However, you should try to distance yourself from politics and work with factual information.

Visit IvyPanda to find more social justice essay examples and other useful paper samples to boost your creative process!

  • Unemployment.
  • Global Warming.
  • School Shooting.
  • Income Inequality.
  • Global Pandemic.
  • Social Security.
  • Racial & LGBTQ Discrimination.
  • Mental Health Stigma.
  • Famine and Starvation.
  • Discrimination in Voting.
  • Social Justice and Gay Rights This perception of gays was radically reformed thanks to the efforts of gay rights movements which trace their roots to the 1960s and the Stonewall Riots of 1969 which marked the birth of the gay […]
  • Is Social Justice the Same Thing as Political Egalitarianism? An Analysis from a Theory of Justice Perspective This is the question that is likely to arise when one is analyzing social justice in the context of political developments in the society.
  • Social Justice and the Australian Indigenous People The main idea behind the formation of the social justice commission was to give the indigenous Australian people choice by empowering them to stand up for their rights.
  • Social and Criminal Justice Responses to Sex Work The negative attitude of the community and the criminalization of sex works made workers of his industry vulnerable and susceptible for the physical assaults of men in the street, their customers and even policemen.
  • Social Justice: The Catholic’s Social Teachings on Justice The church also seeks to instill value in the prisoners’ lives through teachings and practices that accept prisoners as people who deserve to be treated with dignity.
  • Social Justice: Wray’s Essential Aspects of Biblical Law and Justice Wray has conducted an extensive study on the subject of social justice and suggests that students taking any course on law or social justice must go back to the origins of these laws and justice, […]
  • Prosperity and Social Justice The short story was also the subject of debate when it was first written because it failed to fit in any particular genre at the time.”The Yellow Wallpaper” was mostly considered a horror story when […]
  • Setting an Agenda for Social Justice According to Wilkinson, Brundrett is a professor of Educational Research in the Faculty of Education, Community, and Leisure and the head of the Centre for Research and Evaluation, in the Liverpool John Moores University.
  • Social justice and the black – white achievement gap From a national perspective, the achievement gap between the Black and White is reported to have narrowed down in 2007 as compared to the same gap in 1990.
  • Social Justice in Education With a clear distinction between justice taught in class and justice allowed to thrive in the school environments, teachers can be able to observe how their students perceive and response to social injustices in the […]
  • Education and Social Justice The society should also reduce the gap between the poor and the rich. The current level of inequality explains why “every school should reinvent itself in order to deal with social injustice”.
  • Ethics Issues: Social Justice In other words, it is observed that an individual has a duty of ensuring that the law is followed while the government is expected to provide the basic rights and freedoms.
  • David Miller’s Theory of Desert in Social Justice The dependence of rewards on the variety of external and conditional factors makes the public and scholars question the idea of the desert and its use for justice.
  • U.S. Postal Service’s Ethics and Social Justice In spite of the fact that the current agency was organized in 1971, the background of the organization is related to the development of the first postal service in the country based on the U.S.
  • Counselors as Social Justice Advocates The compelling vision of social justice is to achieve “free, full, and equal participation” of all groups in society to realize their aspirations and mutual needs.
  • Administrative Constitutionalism and Social Justice The current point of view at the crimes and violence is predestined by the commercial pressure applied to the mass media sources. In the majority of the cases, popular media becomes the viral source of […]
  • Ethics and Social Justice in Education Policies The real-life problem that contributes to those controversies is the multicultural genuineness of the community that was exposed to the federal and state standard reforms that transpired throughout the last ten years.
  • Black Lives Matter and Social Justice Social media is a new public platform that has proved to be extremely effective in fighting against the normalization of violence against African-Americans.
  • Social Justice Issues: Elderly Minority Groups Students should know the peculiarities of the populations in question and should be aware of practices and services available to those patients.
  • Health Care Services: Social Justice Analysis For instance, the level of poverty in the USA is on the rise, and many people simply have no funds to purchase their health insurance. In conclusion, it is possible to note that social justice […]
  • Readings for Diversity and Social Justice: An Anthology In that way, the authors noted that racial and ethnic differences tend to produce impact on lives of communities in the entirety of their aspects, and thus can aggravate other social justice issues.
  • Social Justice Group Work for Homeless Young Mothers The group discussed in the article was started for the purpose of assisting residents address the problem of homelessness especially in aspects of parenting and during pregnancy periods.
  • American Women’s Movements for Social Justice Like Alice Walker, Deborah Gray, and Collins, Tyra Banks continues the legacy of black women since she is ready to campaign against racism, sexism, and discrimination.
  • Social Justice: Philosophy of Employment The philosophy of empowerment supports dignity and self-worth; as such, value to all people, regardless of their status or race is an important rule of empowerment.
  • What Is Social Justice? To my mind, the two most important principles of justice that should be used to govern within a just society are the selection of highly virtuous state leaders and government representatives to put in charge […]
  • Social Justice in Quality Health Care The provision of accessible health services is necessary to minimize the health risks of the low-income households and improve their quality of life.
  • Social Justice and Educational Reform in the US People are free to develop their individual attitudes to the importance of social justice in education and leadership. Social justice may be used in the creation of job announcements, proposals, and statements to attract attention […]
  • Social Justice for Indigenous Women in Canada However, the problem of social justice or, to be more accurate, the lack thereof becomes especially poignant when considering criminal issues and their management, as well as the factors that contribute to reducing the rates […]
  • Advocating for Social Justice in Healthcare However, health care is also often related to the idea of social justice a term that describes the allocation of resources and benefits to people according to their needs and abilities.
  • Christianity Religion and Asian World: Social Justice It was also said that the greatest botched opportunity in all church history was in the 1260s the court of the great Kublai Khan asked the Polos when they returned to Italy in 1269 to […]
  • Equality of Opportunity and Social Justice: Affirmative Action If this is the situation in advanced nations of the world, the plight in the newly emerging states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America can easily be imagined as to how difficult would it be […]
  • Social Justice and Feminism in America So as to make a change in this situation, the feminists in America took efforts to improve the condition of women.
  • Social Justice and Ethics: Beneficiaries of U.S. Welfare Programs In United States the beneficiaries include the poor, the old, the disabled, survivors, farmers, corporations and any other individual who may be eligible.
  • Re-Examining Criminal and Social Justice Systems: Reducing Incarceration Rates in the US The changes in criminal justice policy over the past decades and the alteration of the same from one of rehabilitative and social justice to one of retributive justice and increasing reliance on imprisonment as a […]
  • Deaf Youth: Social Justice Through Media and Activism The Deaf Youth USA for instance strives to educate, inspire, and empower the deaf youth to make difference in the communities.
  • Social Justice Perspective Thus public health deals not only with the guarantee of a long healthy life but also regulate and control the death rate, try to expand the life interval, and other things that the policy of […]
  • Influence of Socioeconomic Status and Social Justice on Health in the US In the video, Richard David and James Collins have determined that racism, inappropriate social policies, and chronic stress are major social factors that lead to the delivery of low-weight babies among African American women.
  • Equal Pay Convention Ratified by New Zealand and Ensuring Social Justice This paper seeks to identify whether the ratification of the International Labour Organisation equal pay for an equal value of work Convention by New Zealand delivered social justice to the women in the New Zealand […]
  • Researching HIV, AIDS and Social Justice Disney claims that poverty and social injustice lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS among underprivileged people in all countries. The disease was a kind of stigma and infected people were subjected to discrimination and alienation.
  • Conceptualizing Supervision in Search of Social Justice Based on these findings, it could be concluded that Social justice leadership is meant to become the remedy and the ideological, political, and medical opponent of the dominant positivist biomedical paradigm.
  • Social Justice in the US Healthcare System Social justice is a relatively broad concept, the interpretation of which often depends on the political and economic views of an individual.
  • Rise of Mental Social Justice It relates to the social justice leadership in clinical and supervisory practice in mental health settings by challenging the modern tenets of managerialism and neoliberalism.
  • Uganda’s Economic Planning and Social Justice On the eastern, it borders Kenya, North is Southern Sudan, to the west is DRC and to the southwest is Rwanda, while to the South is Tanzania.
  • Social Justice Leadership and Supervision While the concepts of leadership and supervision tend to be referenced within the clinical contend and primarily apply to the responsibilities of the professionals in mental institutions, the issues articulated in the article and chapters […]
  • Community Engagement and Social Justice Promotion Furthermore, as social justice is integrated into the curriculum, I would like to participate in practice-oriented assignments and class discussions to make a meaningful change.
  • Definition of Social Justice and Social Justice in Leadership They should evaluate the situation, identify areas that need improvement and develop a plan to support the achievement of social justice.
  • Social Justice From the Biblical Point of View Furthermore, all oppressed and poor people are considered to be “righteous” in the Bible because it “is a reflection of God’s faithful love in action and his desire for justice and righteousness in this world”.
  • Social Justice: Why Do Violations Happen? If there is social inequality in a society, it must be corrected to serve the interests of the most oppressed groups of the population.
  • Social Justice, Diversity and Workplace Discrimination It also includes the fair distribution of the national wealth and resources among all citizens and the unbiased treatment of all individuals.
  • Social Justice Arts as a Remedy for People The work led to the formation of the movement called Black Lives Matter which calls for an end to oppressing black people through law enforcement.
  • Social Justice and Its Relevance in This Century To put the issue in perspective, he references the civil rights movement of the 1960s and juxtaposes it against the fact that the US had a black president.
  • Religion, Politics, and Social Justice Organized religions want to change and implement rebranding to fit the new trend, concentrating on social justice in general rather than the individual spiritual aspirations of a person or a family.
  • Social Justice and Mental Health However, it is difficult to imagine the U.S.taking nationwide action on mental health due to the absence of healthcare for physical health, which is widely accepted as a serious issue.
  • Jay-Z’s Contribution to Hip-Hop and Fight for Social Justice One should admit that the crime rate among black people in some poor areas is really quite high, and that is another problem Jay-Z covers in his music.
  • Promoting Social Justice With Head Start Program This essay will discuss the role of the Head Start program in the promotion of social justice in the US, focusing on the values taught to the children and the activities that constitute the program.
  • Social Justice and Importing Foreign Nurses Evaluation Given the lag between the submission of the article and its publication, it means that these sources most likely reflect the situation with the recruitment of foreign-educated nurses by the end of the 2000s.
  • Promoting Social Justice Through Serving God Therefore, serving God in action correlates with the promotion of social justice and reflects the importance of Christian teachings about kindness towards others.
  • The Role of Quilting in the African American Striving for Social Justice Perhaps quilting has become not only one of the symbols of African American national culture but also a way in which many black women have become visible and significant.
  • Researching the Concept of Social Justice A special kind of justice is social justice, the subjects of which are large social groups, society as a whole, and humanity.
  • Journal Editors’ Role Regarding Social Justice Issues Journal editors can involve professionals from social justice forums such as civil rights lawyers in their journals as well as reduce the complexity of the presentation of social justice article contents.
  • Social Justice in Social Work Practice The moral approach of social work is fundamentally based on the idea of social justice. Despite the numerous risks associated with advocating for social justice, criticizing injustice is one of the few courageous ways to […]
  • The People Demand Social Justice: The Social Protest in Israel as an Agoral Gathering
  • The Woman Who Spoke of Love and Social Justice
  • Peace and Eco-Social Justice: Failed Distributive Justice, Violence and Militancy in India
  • Spirituality, Women ‘s Issues, Sustainability, and Social Justice
  • Multicultural Counseling Social Justice and Advocacy Reaction
  • The Paradox of Dominate Ideologies in The Fight of Social Justice
  • Letter from Birmingham Jail’ by Martin Luther King Jr. and Social Justice
  • Richard Spencer and the Issues of Social Justice and White Nationalism
  • The Moving Beyond Pity and Inspiration: Disability as a social Justice Issue by Eli Clare
  • The Importance of Human Rights and Social Justice
  • Social Justice: The Role of Higher Education, Criminality and Race
  • Turning Points in the Lives of Chinese and Indian Women Leaders Working Toward Social Justice
  • Paulo Freire’s Social Justice Idea
  • Producing and Practicing Social Justice in Education
  • Urban Social Justice: The Gentrification Debate
  • The Role of Education in Society as Explained in Conell’s Social Justice in Education
  • The Issues of the Canadian Social Services and Social Justice Domain
  • Wellbeing, Freedom, and Social Justice: The Capability Approach
  • The Principle of Social Justice and Advocacy Support
  • The Biblical Prophets’ Teachings on the Love of God in Social Justice
  • The Relationship Between Free Market and Social Justice
  • Uneasy Bedfellows: Social Justice and Neo-Liberal Practice in the Housing Market
  • The Ethics of Pricing and Access to Health Care: A Social Justice Issue
  • Measuring Attitudes Toward Distributive Justice: The Basic Social Justice Orientations Scale
  • The Importance of the Covenant House as a Symbol of Christian Social Justice
  • Social Justice Orientation and Multicultural Environment
  • The New Political Economy of J. S. Mill: The Means to Social Justice
  • The ‘s Coat of Arms Are Trust, Empathy, and Social Justice
  • The Vietnam War and Its Impact on The Creation of Social Justice
  • Race Relations and Social Justice Problems
  • Poverty, Inequality and Social Justice in Nonmetropolitan America
  • Rape Culture, Rapth, and the Cycles of Social Justice
  • The Three Social Justice Issues That Fires Me Up as a Citizen in the United States
  • Reading Baldwin After Harvey: Why Climate Change Is a Social Justice Issue
  • The Importance of Social Justice Is Universal Across
  • Effective Practice During The Social Justice System
  • The Issue of Social Justice Activism in Various Social Media Networks
  • Sustainable Development and Social Justice: Expanding the Rawlsian Framework of Global Justice
  • Once Upon Today: Teaching for Social Justice with Postmodern Picturebook
  • The Congressional Black Caucus Use of Social Media for Social Justice Issues
  • The Effective Teaching Techniques of Lisa Espinosa in Providing Information on the Topic of Cultural Relevance and Social Justice
  • Reading Baldwin After Harvey: Why Climate Change Is a Social Justice Issue?
  • How Does Social Justice Highlight the Relationship Between Social Welfare and Crime Control?
  • Social Justice and Academic Success: Is Individual Effort Enough?
  • Rawls’s Theory of Social Justice: How Decisions Are Made?
  • Are Consultation and Social Justice Advocacy Similar Exploring the Perceptions?
  • How Arc Advances Social Justice?
  • What Are the Different Factors Affect Social Justice?
  • What Does the Information Society Mean for Social Justice and Civil Society?
  • What Is the Connection Between Curricular Practices, Social Justice and Democratic Purpose in the United States Education System?
  • How the United States Has Both Market and Social Justice?
  • What Is the Impact of Social Justice on The United States?
  • What Is the Impact of Social Justice on Human Development?
  • How Does Social Justice Actions Project?
  • When High Pressure, System Constraints, and a Social Justice Mission Collide?
  • What Is the Concept of Social Justice Social Work?
  • What Is the Connection Between Free Market and Social Justice?
  • What Is the Goal of Social Justice Education?
  • What Social Justice Issues Are You Most Passionate About?
  • What Is Consist Social Justice Western Perspectives?
  • How Social Justice Course Changed My Outlook?
  • What Are the Three Social Justice Issues That Fires Up as a Citizen in the United States?
  • What Has Limited the Impact of UK Disability Equality Law on Social Justice?
  • What Is Rawls’ Expanding Framework for Global Justice?
  • How Does the Film “Lord of Flies” Relate to Social Justice?
  • Does the Legal System Promote Social Justice?
  • Are the People Demand Social Justice?
  • Social Justice and the University Community: Does Campus?
  • What Does “Social Justice” Mean?
  • What Does Teaching for Social Justice Mean for Teachers?
  • Why Is Education a Social Justice and Right for Each Child?
  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

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Social Justice and Barriers in Healthcare

Introduction, social justice and nursing, social justice and diversity, barriers to providing social justice care, recommendations for providing health promotion activities.

One of the most important social justice topics that relates not only to nursing in particular but to healthcare in general, is affordable healthcare. Around half of the US adults report problems paying for dental care and out-of-pocket costs for medical care not covered by insurance (Kearney et al., 2021). Even among the insured, 27% say that they find their monthly premium difficult to afford (Kearney et al., 2021). This leads to people using medical services less, avoiding seeking medical help even when they need it, which deteriorates the nation’s health. This is one of the hundreds of issues that are to be addressed in order to achieve better social justice, and nurses have their significant part to play.

Nursing as a profession is based on various values and activities, which include social justice, making it fundamental for nursing. This is demonstrated by the history of the profession and the consensus of specialists and academia. “It is plausible to state that the nursing profession is rooted in social justice responsibilities, as exemplified by the pioneering activities of Mary Seacole, Florence Nightingale, Lillian Wald, among others” (Abu, 2020). For instance, Florence Nightingale, who is considered to be the founder of modern nursing, was widely known for the social reforms she promoted. These reforms were necessary to improve healthcare across the socio-economic classes in Britain; moreover, she stood for better hunger relief and extensive sanitation improvement in India. These nurses and activists left a rich and important heritage for the future generations of professionals to come and forged unbreakable ties between nursing and social justice.

Moreover, social justice is identified and recognized as one of the basic nursing values these days. “Within nursing literature, social justice is presented frequently as a core or shared value at the very foundation of nursing as a prerequisite of health for both society and the individual” (Matwick and Woodgate, 2016). The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) lists human dignity, integrity, autonomy, altruism, and social justice as the profession’s core values (as cited in Habibzadeh et al., 2021). The same can be said about the International Council of Nurses (ICN), Canadian Nurses Association (CNA), and American Nurses Association (ANA).

According to Oxford Reference (n.d.), social justice implies “creating a fair and equal society in which each individual matters, their rights are recognized and protected, decisions are made in ways that are fair and honest.” Diversity is defined as “the inclusion of people of different races, cultures, etc. in a group or organization” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Social justice and diversity are directly linked by their definitions – social justice in the society implies diversity because an equal and fair society implies inclusion. Diversity promotion should be seen as one of the fundamental steps towards achieving social justice.

The same can be applied to patient- and family-centered care (PFCC). IPFCC (n.d.) states that “PFCC redefines the relationships in health care by placing an emphasis on collaborating with people of all ages, at all levels of care, and in all health care settings.” Based on that perception, PFCC can be incorporated into the social justice concept as well, as its realization creates a more fair and equal society and increases opportunities for people of different backgrounds. In my own experience, I was told numerous times about the importance of mentioned concepts, and so far, my working experience demonstrated the conformity of the system with the mentioned concepts.

There are numerous barriers on different levels to providing social justice care by nurses for a diverse population. According to the study by Hosseinzadegan et al. (2021), those include insufficient attention to social justice within the educational system, the inadequate professional authority of nurses, clinical concerns, and reflection of personality traits. Regarding the professional authority, nurses indicated problems with the performance of nursing managers, nursing institutions, existing laws and regulations, and the presence of nurses in policy-making and management. In the educational domain, nurses pointed to the imbalance in the curriculum between social determinants of health and biological health factors; furthermore, in many cases, the poor performance of university professors was mentioned. Clinical concerns include high workload paired with the lack of resources and facilities. Finally, the lack of professional self-esteem that impacts the confidence and independence of nurses also serves as an obstacle.

Health promotion activities imply addressing social determinants of health and modifiable risk behaviors of the population that include eating habits, physical activity, substance abuse. These activities should be wide-ranging and effective, targeting those groups that require it the most. Looking through the prism of social justice and diversity issues, health promotion activities need to address all of the parts of the population equally effectively, regardless of age, race, gender, and culture. For instance, for the US, this implies performing activities and information campaigns not only in English but in Spanish as well, as 13 percent of the country’s population speaks Spanish at home (Thompson, 2021). This number will increase in the future, and by 2050 one third of the US citizens will speak Spanish.

Social justice directly interacts with nursing in many different areas and aspects. It is necessary to emphasize the fundamental role of social justice in nursing as a profession and remember that in many cases, nursing is inseparable from activism. This is especially important in a diverse population, and promoting diversity is crucial to achieving social justice. It is vital to focus on overcoming the existing barriers to providing social justice care and look at healthcare through the prism of inclusivity and diversity. Social justice activism, forever fused into nursing, may be one of the answers.

Abu, V.K. (2020). Let us be unequivocal about social justice in nursing . Nurse Education in Practice , 47 . Web.

Habibzadeh, H., Jasemi, M., & Hosseinzadegan, F. (2021). Social justice in health system; a neglected component of academic nursing education: A qualitative study . BMC Nursing , 20 (16). Web.

Hosseinzadegan, F., Jasemi, M., & Habibzadeh, H. (2021). Factors affecting nurses’ impact on social justice in the health system . Nursing Ethics , 28 (1), 118-130. Web.

Kearney, A., Hamel, L., Stokes, M., & Brodie, M. (2021). Americans’ challenges with health care costs . KFF . Web.

Matwick, A.L., & Woodgate, R.L. (2016). Social justice: A concept analysis . Public Health Nursing , 34 (2), 176-184. Web.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Diversity . Web.

Oxford Reference. (n.d.). Social justice . Web.

Thompson, S. (2021). The U.S. has the second-largest population of Spanish speakers—how to equip your brand to serve them . Forbes . Web.

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Social Justice Concept of Healthcare

Social Justice Concept of Healthcare

T he health of people is highly dependent on their social status and on the environment that surrounds them. Typically, the poor suffer from insufficient healthcare services and unclean surroundings. According to the OECD and World Health Organization (2003), the essay writer primary reason for the need to invest in health is mirrored by an increasing consensus on the significance of a vast agenda in improving the health of the poor and the marginalized. Parts of the environment where people live may not be socially secure. For instance, people who live in slums are exposed to abusive neighbors, people who may be addicted to drugs or drink alcohol excessively. As such, the people who live in these areas may be prone to violence, accidents, depression, anxiety, and stress. These could further trigger chronic disorders such as cardiovascular diseases and respiratory disorders. 

This paper will investigate the social justice concept of healthcare. Society and the environment are critical factors in the health of an individual. As such, it is important to know the various relations that exist among society, the environment, and a person’s health.

Literature Review

Social inequality.

Social inequality exists in different forms. There could be an unequal distribution of desirable life outcomes and an unequal distribution of opportunities. In addition, there could also be an unequal distribution of opportunities and outcomes for individuals and social groups. It must be emphasized that opportunity can be considered as an integral part of interaction among individuals and their environment (Aberg et al., 2003). These make it difficult for an individual to receive “equal opportunity” within an environment (Carter and Reardon, 2014). In addition to considering the social rights of people, it is also important to consider the benefits that come with the said rights. Paus-Hasebrink, Kulterer, and Sinner (2019) emphasized the term “socially disadvantaged circumstances.” It is inclusive of the entire living conditions, and not just limited to the material level. In this way, the state of people in comfortable conditions and those in poor conditions are contrasted, emphasizing social inequality. Hence, there is a need to remove that inequality. According to Carter and Reardon (2014), there is inequality among groups when race, ethnicity, gender, religion, immigrant status, and other related factors correlate to social disadvantage. Furthermore, according to a report by Rowlingson (2011), social inequality and health-related issues are correlated. Hence, an improved socio-economic status would also mean an improved health condition and healthcare benefits. However, the social anxiety caused by income inequality has been considered as the root cause because the status competition and stress that people experience due to income inequality result in problems and complications in health and community. Therefore, social inequality leads to healthy disadvantages to less fortunate people who can afford insurance and appropriate medical care. Consequently, the GDP of the region decreases because of the large population of unfortunates individuals in society.

These challenges make social justice in healthcare an important concept since everyone deserves equal rights and opportunities to prosper in life. Good health is the main integral aspect that helps people to compete in society in a healthy manner (Adler et al., 2006). Therefore, social determinants of health and equity influence the opportunity to attain a standard level of health. Social inequality is also based on the level of health education that people gain to ensure they understand public health essentials and develop positive health as individuals. Most of the unhealthy living individuals lacked basic education such as proper nutrition and sanitation that is crucial to support a long lifespan. The factor is influenced by other social-economical determiners such as income. 

The social justice concept in healthcare is based on the underlying theory that healthcare (public health and medicine) is a “special social good” (Copeland & Wexler, 2017).  Thus, this theory proposes that people should be provided with an equal distribution of healthcare goods and services. However, many philosophical theorists have been reluctant to accord healthcare special social/moral significance since they hold the assumption that health is not an appropriate focal variable for evaluating social justice. For instance, both the egalitarian and liberal theories are reluctant to focus on healthcare since they believe that natural goods like human health cannot be categorized as primary goods ore social value that should be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any of these values is to everyone’s advantage (Copeland & Wexler, 2017). Similarly, many policymakers do not include healthcare in the list of primary social goods subject to budgetary allocation and other economic distributive principles.

One of the major arguments of healthcare is that health has special moral significance because of its status as an end of societal and political activity. Therefore, it can be argued that public policy principles should focus on maintaining and improving the ability to function by meeting healthcare needs (Sen, 2010). The societal obligation to maintain and improve healthcare rests on the ethical principle of healthy principles by Aristotle. Health and flourishing are inherent to human life. Furthermore, human health sustains all other aspects of human life. Thus public policy should aim at ensuring all human beings have the ability to function. This idea is supported by Ruger (2010) who attempts to defend the right to health and reduce the unconceivable health inequalities through the “health capability paradigm”. He argues that societies, through shared governance between the private and public partnerships, can design and sustain effective healthcare institutions and systems that incorporates the political, economic and philosophical policies that provide means to achieve health capabilities.

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 With the enactment of universal healthcare act, there was a concentrated effort towards ensuring that all citizens have access to affordable healthcare.  This ideology has been supported by various social-economic initiatives. However, the extent to which these policies have come to fruition is what makes many people doubt whether they meet the social justice concept. The healthcare disparities and the defining geographical determinants are some of the things that make people doubtful of this concept (Hebert, Sisk, & Howell, 2008). The current healthcare system contains many disparities and treatment gaps for many population segments (Hebert, Sisk, & Howell, 2008). The overriding social concept that captures this issue well across all populations is term “healthcare disparities,” which, in essence, are the differences in groups where a particular group is socially disadvantaged. Most of the notions of healthcare disparities and social inequality are entrenched in social values and principles/considerations of human rights and ethics. Thus, it is unfeasible to describe issues of healthcare inequality/equality without paying attention to the idea of social disadvantage. The social disadvantages are some of the underlying conditions people have to endure based on their relative status within a societal hierarchy.

Educational Attainment

Quality of education is one of the key social determinants of health status. It affects mortality, health behaviors, morbidity, and functional limitations. In an environment where people have a low standard of education, there are high chances of poor healthcare outcomes. This is caused by a lack of understanding of how to attain a healthy lifestyle (Ettner, 2006). For example, the high mortality rate is recorded in such areas since there is little known on how to take care of newborn babies. Therefore, there is high mortality risk occurring within the areas where people are poorly educated. In addition, racism and ethnicity has contributed greatly to this plague (Aberg et al., 2003).

. Health experts support that education is a causal factor in improving the health of society (Cohen et al., 2009). For instance,  health challenges are paramount in slums, where there is congestion of people and poor living standards. On the other hand, higher levels of education are correlated with a better health lifestyle that is associated with a low mortality rate. Education helps people to understand the need to take medical insurance cover for protecting the family against any health challenges that occur in human life. This form of discipline can only be achieved through education and understanding the importance of good health in society.

Income Inequality

Income has a great influence on the health status of individuals. Good income does not necessarily mean a lot, but an appropriate measure that supports health challenges and improves lifestyle. In addition, a reduction in income level can lead to some psychological issues that eventually cause depression (Ettner, 2006). Therefore, income is also an integral determiner of the wellbeing of society. A healthy society should be able to support education, health, other basic needs such as shelter and clothing, among others. People with adequate income and education can take in a balanced meal (Adler et al., 2006). Household income, among other variables, influences health research such as savings for medical checkups and treatment, inherited wealth, and ownership of crucial businesses (Barker and Bagby, 2005). As children grow older, there is a need to protect them from health issues in the environment. This initiative requires good income disposal. Good income earners can purchase nutritious food, good living condition, and health insurance. These needs are crucial for the healthy development of an individual starting childhood to adulthood (Duncan et al., 2004). In addition, secure income flow provides a stable state of mind. This reduces depression, among other psychological challenges that come with stress (Subramanian & Kawachi, 2004).

Social justice in health is a crucial factor that the government can achieve by providing individuals with job opportunities. This will create income and opportunity for education that improve health knowledge among individuals (Cohen et al., 2009). When society is table is stable, it is easy to create healthy habits that are inherited by generations. Practicing these habits for the long term ensures social justice and stability. Therefore, good health standard is characterized by equality of social status.

Occupational Status

This aspect characterizes the level of luxurious life, power, and authority that accrues with positions in the labor market. The status creates income security even in the future. Individuals with this advantage have attained good health because the aspect is inheritable. When a member of the family has the opportunity to secure a permanent job, it is very obvious his or her children will gain the same opportunity (Duncan et al., 2004). Unlike those without employment opportunities, it becomes hard for them to survive the cost of medical care. Occupational status is closely attached to the medical cover for the entire family. This creates the opportunity to experience good health by accessing medical services without exaggerated costs. Poor people have the problem of attaining good job opportunities that care for their future health (Lynch & Kaplan, 2007). This inequality has made some people suffer the pain of bad health and a poor living standard that catalyzes the mortality rate. On the other hand, uneducated people are casually employed in factories that yield health hazards, such as chemicals. Exposure to such toxins reduces an individual’s lifespan. In addition, such jobs are associated with high physical hazards that lead to injuries now and then (Berkman & Glass, 2000). Therefore, they cause a society of low standard more problems than the income can solve. Individuals working in these low standards have less control over their life, a factor that can lead to stress and depression. On the other hand, wealthy and rich individuals who are educated and work in prestigious places with full control of their work and mental status. In addition, well-educated people have jobs that provide all forms of social security crucial for surviving in the modern world. Occupational status is a great determiner for good health in a family.

Capitalism Theory defines the society into three main categories. First is the wage-earners who are the employees who use all their income on basic needs, unlike the capitalists who are resource owner sand with prestigious status in occupation (Costello et al., 2003). Politicians are among the groups that attained the opportunity to benefit from health opportunities in terms of knowledge and education. They control the resources directing them to their family and society. This makes it hard for the poor to achieve a stable health status. This level of injustice influences the wellbeing of the entire nation, consequently, having few enjoying the good health. It is the responsibility of the leaders to ensure health services are available to the socially disadvantaged group in society.

Social Networks

A stable and healthy society is dependent on a connection that individuals have in the community. Secure attachments to important groups in society guarantee the individuals by providing security in terms of health. According to attachment theory, a child born in a connected family with adequate connections in high ranks develops a universal level of human satisfaction that is beneficial throughout the lifespan (Berkman & Glass, 2000). Such bonds are developed over time by people in power and with authority to dictate rules and regulations. In many societies, few people accrue to such opportunities. Social networks and support determine the health wellbeing of the individual in a capitalist society. Social ties determine the level of connections that a person has in society. This includes structural aspects such as the number of people that can help the individual in case of an issue, the homogeneity that determines the similarity of the person to the group, the extent of how the person is attached to these groups, and the degree to which the person is connected. These factors form the web of people that help a person in case of a need (Lynch & Kaplan, 2007). Therefore, a well-connected individual in society develops a sense of belonging in society with a minimal level of stress. Consequently, their health develops normally and become strong people in the community (Barker and Bagby, 2005). On the other hand, poorly connected people have fewer people to look after them and they suffer when calamities such as disease occur to them. This has been paramount because of inequality in the distribution of goods and services to society. Therefore social support received from the social network is a great determiner of the individual’s well-being in society.

The concept of social justice in healthcare provides the basis for action from all stakeholders in the healthcare industry.  This concept acts as a catalyst to social changes as it helps to expose the barriers and disparities that exist in the healthcare system. All the barriers and disparities arise from political and legislative policies, which impact an overwhelming obstacle for social change.  To ensure that every person in this country has the opportunity to attain the highest level of healthcare, the government must initiate social justice in the healthcare system.  This entails distribution in income, education, social networks, and occupational status among social determinants of healthcare and equity. Conversely, the unequal distribution of the crucial resources has led to poor health status. Social justice in health has been affected by the social status of the persons. Hence, the government needs to make such services universal regardless of social connections. This will improve the wellbeing of the entire society, and consequently, social justice in healthcare programs.

Aberg Yngwe M, Fritzell J, Lundberg O, Diderichsen F, Burstrom B. (2003). Exploring relative deprivation: Is social comparison a mechanism in the relation between income and health? Social Science & Medicine.;57(8):1463–1473. [ PubMed ]

Adler N, Boyce T, Chesney M, Cohen S, Folkman S, Kahn R, Syme S. (2006). Socioeconomic status and health: The challenge of the gradient. American Psychologist;49(1):15–24. [ PubMed ]

Barker DJ, and Bagby SP. (2005). Developmental antecedents of cardiovascular disease: A historical perspective. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. 2005;16(9):2537–2544. [ PubMed ]

Berkman L, & Glass T. (2000). Social integration, social networks, social support, and health. In: Berkman L, Kawachi I, editors. Social Epidemiology. New York: Oxford University Press; pp. 137–173.

Cohen S, Underwood LG, Gottlieb BH. (2009). Social Support Measurement and Intervention. New York: Oxford University Press.

Costello EJ, Compton SN, Keeler G, Angold A. (2003). Relationships between poverty and psychopathology: A natural experiment. Journal of the American Medical Association.;290(15):2023–2029. [ PubMed ]

Duncan GJ, Daly MC, McDonough P, Williams DR. (2004). Optimal indicators of socioeconomic status for health research. American Journal of Public Health. 92(7):1151–1157. [PMC free article] [ PubMed ]

Duncan OD. A socioeconomic index for all occupations. In: Reiss A Jr, editor. Occupations and Social Status. New York: Free Press; 1961. pp. 109–138.

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Hebert, P. L., Sisk, J. E., & Howell, E. A. (2008). When does a difference become a disparity? Conceptualizing racial and ethnic disparities in health. Health Affairs , 27 (2), 374-382.

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How Racism Affects the Mental Health of Black Youth

Mental health experts assumed that people of all races had the same risk factors for self-harm -- emerging evidence suggests that is not the case. (Julien James/The New York Times)

O n Sept. 25, 2023, the Biden-Harris administration announced that it will be investing some  $200 million  in the youth mental health crisis. Since youth mental health was declared a national  emergency  in 2021, multiple experts, including the U.S.  Surgeon General , have cited social media and the COVID-19 pandemic, among other things, as major contributing factors. 

But what has not been talked about to the same extent, is how anti-Black racism is fueling the youth mental health crisis. Racism has a crucial impact on the mental health of Black youth, and the current mental health system is not equipped to address it. 

As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I’ve witnessed the depressive, even suicidal effects of racism on Black youth. The kindergartener who was sad and withdrawn for weeks after her white classmates said her skin was too dark to play with them. The fourth grader who said she wanted to die because her white neighbors told her that her black skin was ugly. The affluent high schooler who was hospitalized after a suicide attempt because she was ostracized by her peers and excessively punished by teachers at her predominantly white prep school. Each time, I was the only mental health clinician involved who cited the crucial contribution of anti-Black racism in their mental health assessment. Interpersonal experiences of anti-Black racism play a large role in the mental health of Black youth, and the current youth mental health crisis, but they are largely left out of the conversation in the mental health field.  

The truth is that the effects of racism on the mental health of Black Americans start even before birth. The stress of racism experienced by Black mothers has been linked to  low birthweight  babies, which puts those children at  greater risk  for developing depression and other child mental health issues. Prenatal anti-Black racism can also have other persistent effects. Maternal reports of racism affect the socio-emotional development of Black children in their first year of life, with links to  negative emotionality . 

Yet another indication that the distinct experiences of racism in America affect Black birth outcomes in ways that do not apply to other racially minoritized groups: Foreign-born Black mothers who experience better birthweight outcomes lose the “healthy immigrant effect” after only  one generation , according to a 2020 study published by Princeton University, while foreign-born Hispanic mothers retain it for generations. 

More From TIME

Indeed, Black children and adolescents are suffering at unprecedented rates, and have been for over 20 years . Black youth are dying by suicide at rates increasing faster than any other racial or ethnic group: Black children as young as five years old are 1.8 times as likely to commit suicide compared to their white peers. The suicide rates of other ethnic groups, except for Latinx and American Indian/Alaskan Native youth, have remained virtually the same or declined , even from 2019 to 2020 in the height of the pandemic.

Read More: The Physical Toll Systemic Injustice Takes On the Body

By preschool age , Black children have their own experiences of anti-Black racism, in addition to those of their mothers and families. One study showed that anti-Black racist beliefs emerge as early as age four. In particular, white children have been found to have more negative attitudes towards Black peers and prefer white over Black children as playmates. Black children experience racism from adults, as well, and are disciplined more harshly in schools from an early age. Black preschoolers, especially Black boys, are significantly more likely to be expelled than white peers. This is not surprising given that teachers complain more about the behaviors of Black boys and white adults view them as more dangerous than their white peers.

Although sometimes overlooked, Black girls are not spared, receiving  harsher school  discipline compared to white girls. This criminalization of Black students leads to  poor grades  and overall school performance, which have been associated with low self-esteem, depressive symptoms, and even  suicidality .  

These “zero tolerance policies” in schools lead to children, especially Black children, being expelled, suspended, or even arrested by cops in schools. It also puts them at greater risk of being funneled into juvenile detention system, a racist phenomenon known as the school-to-prison pipeline , and is linked to  higher rates  of depression in Black males. Many of these children have learning problems and are struggling from abuse and neglect.  In other words, they need psychiatric, not punitive, measures.

The harsh punishment of Black children is  intertwined  with the phenomenon of “adultification,” the perception of Black kids as being older and more mature than they are.  Adultification  has anti-Black racist origins dating back to enslavement , and is a major contributor to Black children being not only criminalized, but also hypersexualized at an earlier age than their white peers. A 2020 Georgetown study found that Black girls as young as five and as old as 19, were viewed to be more knowledgeable about sex and less in need of nurturing and protection than their white female peers. This can lead to Black children receiving less emotional support than white children, which can in turn increase the risk of depression, stress, and suicidality.   

As Black children age into adolescence, like all children, their social and cognitive abilities increase, including  abstract reasoning .  This development enables them to be increasingly  attuned  to experiences of anti-Black racism—which, on average, they report experiencing five times a day . But, even children in the preadolescent age range, from ages nine to 12, report  increased suicidality  with experiences of anti-Black racism and more experiences of racism overall compared to non-Black youth. In young adulthood, around ages 18 of 25, experiences of anti-Black racism continues to be predictive for  depressive symptoms  and  suicidal ideations .

 The racist mutigenerational wealth gap also continues to harm Black youth and families, playing an undeniable role in the declining mental health of Black youth. (It is tied to suicidality , as well.) But poverty is not the whole story. Higher socioeconomic status was associated with  greater depressive  symptoms in Black children living in predominantly white neighborhoods compared to those living in predominantly Black areas. For white youth, greater parental education was associated with fewer depressive symptoms. In Black youth, however, the opposite was true; one 2015 study found that Black youth with highly educated parents had higher depression and higher perceived lifetime discrimination scale ratings. These findings suggest that experiences of racism outweigh the protective effects of parental education. 

Anti-Black racism is a driver of the Black youth mental health crisis, separate from socio-economic status, and solutions are urgently needed to tailor the mental health treatment of Black youth. Research funding is necessary for further studies examining the impact of anti-Black racism on child mental health throughout development. The topic remains understudied and underfunded, especially for very young children. We also need more funding for anti-Black racism-conscious mental health treatment tailored to Black youth—staffed by mental health clinicians who have expertise in providing anti-Black racism targeted care. Some organizations already exist, such as the AAKOMA Project , Therapy for Black Girls, and the National Black Child Development Institute, but there are not enough.

Standardized medical education does not teach the mental health effects of anti-Black racism, so traditionally trained psychiatrists are ill-prepared to help Black children navigate these harmful complexities. Curricula for psychiatrists that specifically deal with anti-Black racism are very limited, with only a  few published  in the literature. I was fortunate to study under one of these, the  Social Justice  Health Equity Curriculum at Yale Department of Psychiatry. The landscape is gradually changing, with an  increasing number  of medical schools working to educate students and residents about the impacts of racism.  For example, an anti-racism curriculum tailored to child psychiatry, the  first known  of its kind, was piloted at UCLA in 2021. 

But education is just the start; accountability is also necessary. Mental health clinicians cannot provide anti-Black-racism-informed care for children if they are engaging in racist behaviors themselves. Leaders of mental health institutions, like hospitals and clinics, must take an active role in ensuring that, when Black children do seek help, that their mental health is not further harmed by racism in medical care. Black children are more likely than white children to be diagnosed with  stigma-laden  disruptive mood disorders and  physically restrained  in emergency departments, so it is crucial that leaders ensure anti-racist hiring practices and reporting systems are in place to recruit and retain staff. When racist behaviors do occur, leaders need to hold mental health staff accountable, even if it means penalizing highly prized colleagues or close friends. 

The youth mental health crisis will not end until the mental health of all children stabilizes. I refuse to let Black children be left behind—and that means facing anti-Black racism head on. 

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Guest Essay

Something Wonderful Is Happening in American Prisons. Really.

An illustration showing a giant book that seems to also be a prison cell. A person in a prison jumpsuit walking out, wearing a graduate’s mortarboard and holding a diploma.

By Max Kenner

Mr. Kenner is the founder and executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative at Bard College.

A change taking place right now has the potential to do more good within U.S. prisons than any policy in a generation — good that will extend far beyond the realm of criminal justice. With a 2020 law finally taking full effect, people who are incarcerated can for the first time in decades get Pell Grants, the federal tuition aid for low-income students. The grants are small, but they are critical to rebuilding one of the most important tools we have to reduce crime and mitigate the harms of mass incarceration: college education.

Those of us who have been on the front lines pressing for this change now face a new challenge. We spent 26 years advocating so that what’s known as college-in-prison could be. Now is the time to figure out what it should be.

Decades of experience offer some clear guidance: College-in-prison should be rigorous, holding students to the same standards they would experience on campus. Classes should, wherever possible, be in person rather than remote. Above all, educators should not assume that people in prison are any less capable and curious than other students. College-in-prison can and should reflect the full breadth of American higher education.

College-in-prison was once common in the United States. Its origin is a series of fits and starts through the first half of the 20th century. Then in the 1970s, with the creation of Pell Grants — and the huge expansion of the prison population — hundreds of college-in-prison programs began to emerge nationwide.

They served as a crucial bulwark of optimism and ambition amid an otherwise horrifying landscape of mass incarceration. And they created pathways to college for those communities we in higher education fail most gravely.

The programs got extraordinary results. Even accounting for selection bias , countless studies have demonstrated their efficacy in reducing the risk of recidivism — by 43 percent, according to a report from the RAND Corporation. Still, in 1994, amid a tough-on-crime frenzy, Congress voted to keep people in prison from receiving Pell Grants — saving a mere $35 million per year as those same legislators directed more than $7 billion toward building new prisons. The ban decimated the field nationwide.

College-in-prison saves money and reduces crime. That is why the coalition that has come to support it is unusually broad and bipartisan. It includes conservative evangelicals, liberal academics, allies of the Koch and Soros philanthropic networks, leaders in business and education, progressive criminal justice reformers and prominent members of law enforcement. The process of restoring federal funding began under the Obama administration and was completed by President Donald Trump.

If you’re confused about why Congress would remove education from departments of “correction,” you’re not alone. Since the late 1990s, despite the loss of Pell Grants, a patchwork of boutique and pilot programs — established by religious communities, advocates, students on college campuses and, most of all, incarcerated people themselves — has grown from a tiny number to dozens in recent years.

North Carolina, Ohio and Texas have hosted programs for decades. California and New Jersey have re-established statewide systems. New York has an extraordinary, diverse network of partnerships that replicates the diversity of college across the state. And, inspired by Catholic mission, Holy Cross College and the University of Notre Dame , Boston College and Villanova have led the way in their red, blue and purple home states.

At the Bard Prison Initiative , where I work, 20 percent of bachelor’s degree candidates complete degrees in math and science at the same level as students on campus who come from elite high schools around the world. Incarcerated students majoring in history or literature all write original senior theses that are typically 100 pages in length. Students excel in the fields of public health and the social sciences, and the Debate Union has defeated teams from Cambridge , Morehouse and Harvard , among others. They study Mandarin, German or Spanish, computer science and the arts.

After release, alumni have gone on to complete graduate degrees at universities including Columbia, Yale, N.Y.U., Cornell and Georgetown. They now hold decision-making positions in government agencies and major philanthropies, they own businesses and serve their communities, and, among many other roles, they are crucial voices in the effort to reshape our criminal justice system. Within two months of release, our research indicates, 85 percent are employed .

This kind of education can exist in prisons nationwide. But to achieve it we must invest. Pell Grants, which average less than $4,500 , never covered the cost even for modest programs. Success requires state-level spending, too.

Last year New York ended its 26-year ban on state tuition assistance for incarcerated people. Next year, we hope others will follow. If states want less recidivism and better outcomes after prison, they cannot invest in punishment alone.

Within the prisons, we must offer educators a degree of independence. Real change happens in a classroom when the door closes, allowing a person’s identity as prisoner to fade and another, of student, to emerge. For the professionals who run our prisons, that takes courage. But amid the tons of steel and concrete there is surely room for a professor to debate, say, theology or American history without jeopardizing safety and security.

Last, colleges must step up. It’s easy to acknowledge that mass incarceration is a crisis or to call the justice system dysfunctional, violent or racist. Similarly, it’s easy for academics to view prisons as places to conduct academic research or perform community service. It’s another thing to approach them as places filled with talent and ambition, with people poised to take advantage of all we have to offer — people who deserve the same care, inclusivity and optimism that we bring to members of our own communities.

Throughout American history, there have been groups of people that take particular advantage of what education has to offer. Veterans, especially in the years after World War II; immigrants, in almost any era; and, while we rarely talk about it, no group achieved so much with little access to education as the generations of Black Americans in the aftermath of Emancipation.

Amid the controversies surrounding higher education today — from high-stakes testing to culture wars to affirmative action — here is one thing everyone can agree on: We are a long way from engaging the full range of American talent in a way that prepares us for the challenges of the 21st century. Tragically, incarcerated Americans are among the best groups to look to for our untapped potential.

College-in-prison is a desperately needed step toward improving justice in America. Still, its greatest impact may be on higher education itself: transforming who we think college is for, how we find students and what we imagine they can achieve.

Max Kenner is founder and executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative at Bard College.

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WeWork and Rite Aid Bankruptcies Yield $42 Million for Kirkland

By Brian Baxter

Brian Baxter

Christmas appears to have come early for Kirkland & Ellis.

The law firm, perennially one of the highest-grossing in Big Law and fresh off naming its largest-ever partnership class , filed court papers last week detailing $41.5 million in retainer payments it received on behalf of bankrupt clients Rite Aid Corp. and WeWork Inc.

SmileDirectClub Inc., another insolvent company advised by Kirkland, also disclosed last month it paid $2.5 million to the firm.

Kirkland, known for its large tier of nonequity partners , disclosed last month that seven of its 205 new partners come from its lucrative restructuring practice. That group made headlines last year for its work representing several cryptocurrency companies that filed for Chapter 11 protection.

Distressed companies frequently turn to Kirkland for turnaround work that requires large teams of lawyers navigating complex legal and financial issues. Kirkland didn’t respond to a comment request about its work for WeWork and Rite Aid, whose bankruptcy billables are broken down below.

WeWork Inc.

Kirkland disclosed in a Nov. 20 application for employment in WeWork’s bankruptcy that it was paid a $1 million retainer on Sept. 13. The firm subsequently received special purpose retainers totaling $21 million, according to the submission from Kirkland restructuring partner Steven Serajeddini.

In August, WeWork hired Kirkland and added former top Milbank bankruptcy partner Paul Aronzon to its board . Kirkland lawyers are billing between $685 and $2,245 per hour. WeWork is hoping to use the bankruptcy process to shed and renegotiate leases , although some landlords are fighting back .

WeWork, which filed for bankruptcy in early November after promoting Pamela Swidler to its top legal job this year, is also being advised by lawyers from Munger, Tolles & Olson; Cole Schotz; and Canada’s Goodmans.

Munger Tolles received a $250,000 retainer payment from WeWork on Oct. 30 and an additional $884,000 on Nov. 1, per a court filing in the case. The firm, which is serving as special counsel to WeWork, submitted Nov. 5 an invoice for nearly $1.1 million in fees to draw down nearly the entirety of its retainer payments. Munger Tolles lawyers are billing between $765 to $2,245 per hour.

Cole Schotz, which is serving as local counsel to WeWork in its Chapter 11 case in Newark, N.J., was paid more than $211,000 in the 90 days prior to the co-working company’s bankruptcy. Cole Schotz currently holds a retainer of nearly $939,000, according to a court filing in the case. Cole Schotz lawyers are billing between $375 to $1,475 per hour for their services.

Rite Aid Corp.

Kirkland disclosed in a Nov. 22 application for employment in Rite Aid’s Chapter 11 case that it received an initial $500,000 retainer on May 3 and subsequent special purpose retainers totaling $19 million from the pharmacy chain, which went bankrupt last month . Kirkland lawyers have the same hourly rates in Rite Aid’s bankruptcy as they do for WeWork.

Rite Aid has also retained Cole Schotz as co-counsel for its Chapter 11 case in Trenton, N.J., with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Kobre & Kim representing the company’s board. Cole Schotz, whose lawyers have the same billing rates as in the WeWork case, in the 90 days prior to Rite Aid’s insolvency received about $412,000 from the company. Cole Schotz currently holds a roughly $783,000 retainer from Rite Aid, according to a court filing .

Wilson Sonsini has received $2.2 million in advance retainers from Rite Aid and its lawyers are billing the debtor between $615 and $2,475 per hour as special counsel to its board, per a court filing . Kobre & Kim stated in court papers that it’s received nearly $800,000 since late July representing a group of Rite Aid directors. Kobre & Kim lawyers are billing between $950 and $2,000 per hour.

Rite Aid, which hired a new top lawyer earlier this year in Thomas Sabatino , a veteran law department leader , is facing a March 1 deadline to complete its turnaround and emerge from Chapter 11. The company has also parted ways with a pair of Big Law firms that had personal ties to former Rite Aid executives.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at [email protected] ; John Hughes at [email protected] ; Alessandra Rafferty at [email protected]

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  • Research article
  • Open access
  • Published: 12 January 2021

Social justice in health system; a neglected component of academic nursing education: a qualitative study

  • Hosein Habibzadeh 1 ,
  • Madineh Jasemi 1 &
  • Fariba Hosseinzadegan   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-3464-7385 1  

BMC Nursing volume  20 , Article number:  16 ( 2021 ) Cite this article

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In recent decades, increasing social and health inequalities all over the world has highlighted the importance of social justice as a core nursing value. Therefore, proper education of nursing students is necessary for preparing them to comply with social justice in health systems. This study is aimed to identify the main factors for teaching the concept of social justice in the nursing curriculum.

This is a qualitative study, in which the conventional content analysis approach was employed to analyze a sample of 13 participants selected using purposive sampling method. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to collect and analyze the data.

Analysis of the interviews indicated that insufficient education content, incompetency of educators, and inappropriate education approaches made social justice a neglected component in the academic nursing education. These factors were the main sub-categories of the study and showed the negligence of social justice in academic nursing education.

Research findings revealed the weaknesses in teaching the concept of social justice in the nursing education. Accordingly, it is necessary to modify the content of nursing curriculum and education approaches in order to convey this core value. Since nursing educators act as role models for students, especially in practical and ethical areas, more attention should be paid to competency of nursing educators, specially training in the area of ethical ideology and social justice.

Peer Review reports

Professional values include action standards that are accepted by group members and provide a framework for evaluating beliefs and notions affecting behavior [ 1 ]. Acquisition of professional nursing values is a prerequisite for resolving conflicts; it improves service quality and increases job satisfaction of nurses [ 2 ]. The core values accepted and presented by American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) (1998) include human dignity, integrity, autonomy, altruism, and social justice [ 3 ], out of which social justice has attracted more attention in recent years. Disproportionate burden of diseases and deaths in parts of the society associated with environmental and socioeconomic factors has been recognized for decades; however, the number of documents on these issues has increased dramatically over the past 15 years [ 4 ]. The WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health attributes these differences to social inequalities in the distribution of power, income, shelter, education, and healthcare as well as climate change, vulnerability, and other life conditions. It also prioritizes social justice as a mechanism for correcting and eliminating inequalities [ 5 ]. Social justice in the health system refers to providing equal healthcare services for all individuals, regardless of their personal characteristics [ 6 ]. The AACN defines social justice as fair treatment, regardless of one’s economic status, race, ethnicity, age, citizenship, disability, or sexual orientation [ 7 ].

Although social justice has been identified as a professional value in documents issued by reputable nursing associations such as International Council of Nurses (ICN), Canadian Nurses Association (CNA), American Nurses Association (ANA), and AACN [ 8 ], the discussion of social justice in nursing profession has always been accompanied by serious doubts and concerns [ 9 ]. In addition, nurses’ responses to social injustice have not always been admirable, and nursing profession’s poor performance originates from various factors such as unawareness [ 10 ].

Development of a professional value such as social justice is a continuous and long-term process that begins with professional nursing education and continues throughout years of nursing practice. Education plays a key role in acquiring professional values [ 11 ]. Students, educators, faculties, clinical and educational experiences, and individual values are among the most important components of learning and development of professional values [ 12 ]. It is very important to train highly skilled and qualified nurses to provide necessary care for heterogeneous populations in today’s ever-changing demographic prospect. Nursing students must understand their responsibility for poplulation health issues and social factors affecting health (eg, world hunger, environmental pollution, lack of access to health care, violation of human rights, and inequitable distribution of health care resources, including nursing services) and in this regard acquire the necessary knowledge and skills [ 13 ].

To institutionalize the concept of social justice in nursing students, especially in developed countries, measures have been taken in the area of education, which include modifications made to nursing curriculum and education approaches [ 14 ]. For instance, simulation is a one of new methods utilized for teaching this concept [ 15 ]. Since the mid-2000s, there has been an increase in tendency towards online learning [ 16 ], co-curricular experiences [ 17 ], and digital storytelling [ 18 ] in order to promote students’ understanding of social justice issues. Nevertheless, some studies have addressed the weaknesses of nursing curriculum in teaching social justice [ 19 , 20 ] and have attributed nurses’ inability in pursuing social justice to their poor scientific and practical competencies [ 21 ]. Although several quantitative and qualitative studies have been conducted in recent decades to institutionalize the concept of social justice among nursing graduates [ 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 ], academic nursing education has unfortunately failed to train competent nurses who seek information and training on social justice. Considering the importance of this subject, a qualitative approach [ 26 ] was adopted to provide an in-depth understanding of social justice based on the realistic results derived from the participants’ real experiences. Therefore, in this study, the experiences of nursing educators and students in identifying the main factors for teaching the concept of social justice in nursing education program were analyzed.

Study design and setting

This qualitative study was conducted using a conventional content analysis method. The participants were recruited from three nursing faculties (Urmia, Tabriz, and Tehran) and two teaching hospitals of Tehran (Motahari Hospital) and Urmia (Talegani Hospital) in Iran. These cities were selected due to their large size and forerun in educational, clinical, and social nursing activities.

Study participants

In view of the objective of the study - identify the main factors for teaching the concept of social justice in the nursing curriculum - we initially selected nursing educators by purposive sampling method. Nursing educators who had more than 5 years of service experience and among the prominent educators with activity in nursing institutions that involved in developing social justice were selected. The data from the study then led us to students and clinical nurses. Among the students, the final year undergraduate students, exemplary and active in social fields, and among the nurses, those with more than 2 years of service experience, accepted by the system professionally and actively in the field of social justice, such as voluntary activities in public health promotion, were selected for the interview.

The participants included 6 men and 9 women with the mean age of 39.07 ± 12.92 years old and mean work experience of 20.00 ± 7.22 years. Out of all the participants, 5 individuals had PhD, whereas 2 had Master’s degrees; the rest had Bachelor’s degrees in nursing. In total, 7 individuals were nursing educators, 2 individuals were clinical nurses, and 4 individuals were nursing students (Table  1 ).

Data collection

The data were collected using in-depth, semi-structured individual interviews conducted at the times and in the places selected by the participants (mainly at nursing faculties). Each interview lasted for 30–90 min; they were audio recorded upon the participants’ permission and transcribed verbatim. All the 13 interviews were conducted by the research team (FH, MJ, and HH) between February and November 2019. The participants were asked questions about their experiences of (learning/teaching) social justice issues. Considering the abstract nature of the research subject, the researchers raised more objective questions. For instance, the educators were asked to “describe their experiences of modification to the curriculum to cover social justice issues”, whereas the students were asked to “describe their experiences of social justice-based practices during internships”. In addition, to better identify factors affecting social justice education in nursing, the educators and students were asked questions such as “Considering your experiences, what factors have affected your engagement in social justice in education?” and “How do you describe education approaches adopted by educators for teaching social justice?”, respectively. (See Additional file  1 for details). The researchers continued the interviews until the data were completely saturated, i.e. when no new idea, concept, or category was derived from the final interviews.

To better relate to the environments of the study and the participants and analyze the data realistically, the researchers also used field notes. Field notes are a brief summary of the observations made while collecting data. This is not limited to a particular type of activity or behavior and assesses the non-verbal behaviors of the participants and their interactions with others. It also depicts a picture of a social position. In this study, field notes also made a detailed presentation of the situation in the right place immediately after the interview and provided the opportunity to confirm the psychological and emotional reactions of the participants. For example, attending the emergency ward of one of the teaching hospitals in Urmia city and observing nursing education in the clinical environment led to a field note focusing the training on the clinical procedures that confirm the insufficient educational content and lack of attention to social justice in nursing education.

Data analysis

After the data were collected, they were analyzed using the conventional content analysis approach. For this purpose, Grundheim and Lundman’s (2004) method was adopted [ 27 ]. In this method, an entire interview is regarded as an analysis unit involving notes that must be analyzed and coded. The researchers listened to the interviews for several times and transcribed the recorded interviews verbatim. The paragraphs, sentences, and words were considered meaning units. A meaning unit is a set of words and sentences that are related to each other in content and are categorized based on their content and context. The texts were reviewed several times to highlight words containing key concepts or meaning units and extract the initial codes. The codes were then reviewed several times in a continuous process from code extraction to labeling. Similar codes were merged, categorized, and labeled and the subcategories were determined. The extracted subcategories were finally compared and merged (if possible) to form the main categories.

Assessing data accuracy and stability

Guba and Lincoln’s (1986) criteria were used to ensure the accuracy and stability of the research data. The credibility of the data was assessed using member-checking and prolonged engagement techniques. For member-checking technique, the participants reviewed the content of the interview and the resulting codes to ensure the accurate meaning and for really reflecting their experiences. The data were also assessed by an external researcher (peer debriefing). To ensure the dependability, data collection methods, interview, taking notes, coding, and data analysis were expressed in detail in order to make judging by the external auditor (external auditing). In order to achieve confirmability, the audit trail method was used, so that all stages of the research, especially the stages of data analysis and the results, were provided to checking of two expert colleagues in the field of qualitative research. The transferability of the findings was also established by providing a rich description of the research report and the content of the interviews was represented by the selected quotations from the participants [ 28 ].

Ethical considerations

The participants were selected after the approval of Ethics Committee of Urmia University of Medical Sciences and the necessary permissions (Code: IR.UMSU.REC.1397.223) were granted. Prior to the interviews, the participants were informed about their anonymity, confidentiality of their information, the research method and objectives, and their right to leave the study at will. The participants also signed informed consent forms.

Classification of the interviews showed that three sub-categories of “insufficient educational content”, “limited competency of nursing educators”, and “inappropriate education approaches” led to the emergence of the main category called “social justice; a neglected component of academic education” (Table  2 ).

Social justice; a neglected component of academic education

Proper education plays a major role in training justice-seeking nurses. Social justice and its importance in healthcare are constituents of the nursing syllabus. Paying more attention to this issue in practical and objective areas of education by educators can influence students’ thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors to pursue justice in health systems. However, Iran’s education system has unfortunately failed to promote justice because of insufficient educational content, limited competency of nursing educators, and inappropriate education approaches.

Insufficient educational content

Development of a comprehensive nursing curriculum, especially on ethical issues such as social justice, could substantially contribute to the preparation of socially and morally conscious nurses who are able to make significant changes in the public health at local, national, and international levels. In this study, the participants highlighted some weaknesses in the content of the existing nursing curriculum such as lack of attention to social justice, discontinuity in presenting courses on ethical values, and allocating most of the nursing courses to medical issues and clinical care.

Lack of attention to social justice in nursing curriculum

Social justice is a core nursing value which plays a significant role in promoting justice by nursing students and nurses. However, according to the participants, it has unfortunately been neglected in the existing nursing curriculum. In this regard, one participant stated,

“In the fourth semester, we studied a course on nursing ethics. I think there was no discussion on social justice because I don’t remember anything about this topic” (Participant No. 7/Nursing Student).

Regarding the importance of teaching social determinants of health, another participant stated,

“I was not aware of the importance of social issues in health until I participated in a workshop called ‘Social Justice in Health’. It really changed my beliefs and broadened my perspective” (Participant No. 10/Clinical Nurse).

Discontinuity in presenting courses on ethical values

Values are major components of the nursing profession. The institutionalization and development of professional values such as social justice contribute significantly to the future of this profession. The few number of courses presented on ethical values and discontinuity in the presented courses (for instance, no course on ethical values is provided for post-graduate students) were major items mentioned by the participants. In this regard, one of the participants stated,

“When students are repeatedly reminded of the importance of a value, they will realize its importance and the value will be institutionalized in them. We partially studied professional values and social justice issues in the fourth semester of our undergraduate courses; however, no similar course was provided for us afterwards during the Master’s program” (Participant No. 5/ Faculty Member).

Or another participant stated:

“We cannot deny that the ethical issues have been institutionalized in our professional graduates to some extent. But, these issues are not worked on in a principled and scientific manner and that there is no constant focus on them. After all, the effect of the hidden curriculum has been more prominent.”(Participant No.1/Faculty Member).

Allocating most of nursing courses to medical issues and clinical care

Diseases and clinical care are among the most fundamental parts of theoretical and practical training provided for nursing students; however, due to the multi-dimensional nature of the nursing profession, special attention should be paid to other dimensions as well. According to the research results, the existing nursing curriculum focuses mainly on transferring knowledge and skills associated with physical and routine care. One participant expressed,

“Most of our courses were related to various diseases and nursing care, and educators rarely talked about ethical and legal issues during their lectures” (Participant No. 6/ Nursing Student).

Another participant stated the reasons for the focus of nursing education on the physical and caring dimensions:

“Well, when we see that our graduates have problems in providing quality clinical care, we also have to do more in the field of clinical care.”(Participant No.3/ Faculty Member).

Limited competency of nursing educators

Educators play an undeniable role in training competent nurses through institutionalizing beliefs and behaviors. Using proper teaching and behavioral approaches, educators can improve students’ critical thinking skills and prepare them to promote justice in health systems. According to the participants, insufficient competency of nursing educators in teaching social justice issues and inappropriate value perspectives of educators in developing social justice were the main properties of this category.

Insufficient capabilities of educators in teaching social justice issues

Educators must be equipped with sufficient scientific, practical, and ethical capacities in order to effectively institutionalize the concept of social justice in students. According to the participants, nursing educators’ insufficient knowledge and experience about social justice issues make it difficult for them to transfer such knowledge to their students. One participant said,

“When I was a student, I once informed my educator about the unjust patient admission procedure in the surgical department. Yet, my educator recommended me to do what the head nurses would say. I did not see the necessary authority in my educator to establish justice” (Participant No. 11/ Clinical Nurse).

Low presence of nursing educators in clinical and community settings is also one of the factors that, according to the participants, has contributed to this problem.

“Unfortunately, our professors are so involved in education and research, especially to promote themselves, that they do not have the opportunity to address social issues.” (Participant No.9/ Faculty Member).

Inappropriate value perspectives of educators in developing social justice

The participants highlighted the important role of nursing educators’ ethical perspectives in promoting the quality of education and training qualified nurses who would provide services tailored to the needs of the society. They also argued that ethical values could help educators establish and expand social justice in health systems. According to the results, most of the educators had undesirable value perspectives on establishing social justice in the area of health. In this respect, participant no. 5 stated,

“When a nurse has no right to make any decisions in a healthcare system, what can I say to the student about social justice?” (Participant No. 5/ Faculty Member).
“My main responsibility is to transfer knowledge in the field of nursing and I think ethics should be taught by educators in medical ethics.” (Participant No.2/ Faculty Member).

Inappropriate education approaches

Education approaches are considered an essential part of the educational structure and play a key role in transferring ethical values such as social justice to students. Given the abstract nature of social justice, choosing the best education approach could help educators resolve complicated problems during teaching in order to institutionalize professional values and beliefs. According to the findings, educators adopt poor education approaches to transfer ethical values such as social justice and self-awareness to students. In this regard, focusing on traditional education approaches and using insufficient affective learning approaches were cited by the participants.

Focusing on traditional education approaches

Undoubtedly, lecturing is one of the most widely used education approaches; however, this traditional method is very ineffective in teaching abstract concepts such as social justice. According to the participants, educators mostly use lecturing approach to teach social justice issues and students are rarely involved in the teaching process. One participant argued that educators mainly use teacher-centered approaches in ethical discussions, stating,

“We (the students) had no active role in the professional ethics class. The educator spoke on relevant topics based on the availed syllabus and provided some examples of clinical ethical issues. However, I think that educators must discuss social justice issues with students to help them visualize and understand cases of injustice and discuss appropriate reactions in such situations” (Participant No. 13/ Nursing Student).

Another participant stated this:

“The predominant teaching method in professional ethics classes has been lecturing. Every now and then, there was some discussions in between, but it was very rare. Other nursing educators were also using the lecture method when talking about ethics” (Participant No. 7/ Nursing Student).

Using insufficient affective learning approaches

The use of affective learning strategies such as reflective activities and simulations leading to emotional responses plays an important role in creating self-reflection and transferring professional knowledge and skills to nursing students. However, based on the participants’ experience, affective learning approaches are not used effectively and systematically in teaching ethical issues such as social justice. In this regard, one participant stated,

“Since there are too many topics on professional ethics, we (educators) can only convey basic issues to students and it is difficult for us to adopt other learning strategies such as the affective approach” (Participant No. 4/ Faculty Member).

The same participant further stated:

“Now, in the professional ethics class, I do my best to teach the content with a combination of methods. For example, we have formed a group for medical students in the cyberspace (WhatsApp) and asked students to express the issues and questions of clinical ethics. They should raise it there because there is no time in the classroom for these issues. However, we have not performed the same for nursing students yet” (Participant No. 4/ Faculty Member).

According to the research findings, social justice in a health system is a neglected component of academic nursing education due to factors including insufficient educational content, limited competency of nursing educators, and inappropriate education approaches. These factors were introduced as the main research subcategories in this study.

Some weaknesses were observed in the content of nursing curriculum, which is an main factor in promoting professional nursing values such as social justice in nursing students. Lack of attention to the issue of social justice in nursing curriculum has also been mentioned in other studies [ 13 , 20 ]. Based on the participants’ experience, most of the nursing courses are allocated to medical issues and clinical care. According to Thurman, clinical specialties have received the main focus of nursing curriculum, whereas little attention has been paid to social justice issues [ 21 ] . This problem can be attributed to the poor performance of nurses in clinical care. The participants also believed that there was discontinuity in presenting courses on ethical values because the professional ethics course was presented only to undergraduate students. This issue disrupts the proper institutionalization of ethical values such as social justice in nursing students. Frenk et al. believe that the preparation of healthcare professionals to address current healthcare inequalities and challenges has been slowed down by obsolete, fragmented, and static curriculum [ 29 ]. In addition, Rozendo et al. highlighted inconsistencies in terms of presenting social justice-related issues in nursing curricula and argued that there was little material on social justice in post-graduate nursing programs [ 14 ].

Nursing educators’ competencies also affect teaching social justice issues. In today’s rapidly-changing world facing numerous crises, experienced educators play a significant role in training qualified nurses equipped with various skills enabling them to create social development. Accordingly, Read et al. highlighted the critical role of nursing educators in institutionalizing fundamental principles of social justice and health equity in students [ 30 ]. According to Ellis, educators should shift nursing students’ learning and thinking attitudes from individualism to community-centered frameworks and from tertiary (reactionary) to primary (preventive) care approaches [ 31 ]. However, unfortunately, the research findings indicated that nursing educators are not sufficiently qualified to teach and institutionalize social justice in students. In this regard, educators’ insufficient knowledge and experience in teaching social justice issues were highlighted by the participants. Borhani et al. found that ethical knowledge of nursing educators determined their students’ professional ethics competencies [ 32 ]. Akbas et al also argued that nursing educators’ knowledge and skills were the first and most important factors affecting their success in teaching issues of professional ethics [ 33 ]. As mentioned by the participants, inappropriate value perspectives of educators in developing social justice was another weakness of nursing educators. The significant impact of educators’ perspectives on teaching ethical values such as social justice has also been emphasized by Parandeh et al. [ 12 ].

Education approaches adopted to present and convey ethical values to students are of high importance. In this regard, Einhellig discussed the ineffectiveness of traditional approaches such as lecturing in institutionalizing social justice in nursing graduates and outlined the benefits of affective learning approaches [ 19 ]. According to the findings, lecturing is the dominant approach used to teach social justice in Iran’s nursing faculties, which is an inefficient teaching approach, as suggested by the research literature. This is probably due to the large number of students and limited time allocated to each academic course. While cognitive learning approaches rely on principles and concepts, affective learning approaches support the integration of knowledge with emotions, attitudes, and personal beliefs [ 34 ]. Neumann found that affective education approaches could enhance students’ understanding and use of ethical values [ 35 ]. Einhellig highlighted that nursing faculties need to use various strategies with a focus on behavior changes in order to successfully institutionalize the concept of social justice in nursing graduates [ 24 ].


The findings of the present study were limited to factors affecting education of social justice in the nursing curriculum in the health system in the culture of Iran. Other limitations of this study was the consideration of the three nursing faculties and two teaching hospitals in Iran. As such, it may not be a representative of the experiences of all the nursing profession members in Iran. Limitations of our study proposed the need for conducting further studies with larger and mixed groups and in different cultures.

The research findings provided researchers with an insight into the weaknesses of nursing curricula, educators, and education approaches in social justice development in Iran. It seems that more attention must be paid to professional values and social determinant of health in nursing curricula in order to train justice-seeking nurses with a sense of responsibility. Educators play a prominent role in training competent individuals who are aware of and sensitive to social issues and inequalities. It is necessary to change the education approaches adopted by nursing educators in order to institutionalize the concept of social justice in students. After changing the content of nursing curriculum and applying different education approaches, future studies can focus on the impact of such changes on social development and social justice promotion.

Availability of data and materials

The interview dataset generated and analysed during the current study are not publicly available due to promises of participant anonymity and confidentiality. However, on reasonable request the data could be available from the corresponding author. All applications should be sent to [email protected] . All requests will be answered within a maximum of 1 month by email.


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This study is a part of a PhD dissertation approved and funded by Vice Chancellor for Research, Urmia University of Medical Sciences. The researchers would like to thank the authorities of School of Nursing and Midwifery, Urmia University of Medical Sciences, as well as the participants for their kind cooperation.

This study was funded by Department of Research, Urmia University of Medical Sciences, which had no role in the design of the study, data collection, analysis, interpretation of data, or writing the manuscript.

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Hosein Habibzadeh, Madineh Jasemi & Fariba Hosseinzadegan

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The study was designed by HH,MJ and FH. FH participated as the main interviewer. The initial deductive data analysis was done by FH and used as validation of the analysis carried out by HH and MJ. The final data analysis of the interviews was discussed and consented to by all authors. A first draft of the article was developed by FH and MJ. All authors then contributed to this, and finalized it together. FH was responsible for the final draft of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Habibzadeh, H., Jasemi, M. & Hosseinzadegan, F. Social justice in health system; a neglected component of academic nursing education: a qualitative study. BMC Nurs 20 , 16 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12912-021-00534-1

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