The Promise of Nursing: Social Justice and Health

Those of us who have been involved in the Nurse Manifest Project are deeply committed to the idea of social justice – the notion that reaching for social justice is fundamental to human health and well-being and that social justice is central to our purpose.  It is the promise we make to individuals and to communities when we claim to care for each and every person for whom we care. But like many other social concepts and ideals, the meaning of social justice often alludes us. So I decided to ask all of our NurseManifest bloggers to share, in just a couple of sentences, their concept of social justice!  Here is what they sent: 

Elizabeth: On my walk the morning, I recall thinking that “social justice” is not a noun but a verb. It is not something that is, rather it is what you do. It is one’s life’s work. Well, it is my life’s work.

Carey: I think in nursing we can view social justice as our ethical obligation to support the healing of those who are suffering due to social inequities and the promotion of equality and human rights in the society which we serve.

Sue: My belief is that social justice is the process of questioning privilege and whose interest is being served.  Of course, there’s also courage– to question, to act, to be vulnerable, and to be part of a collective that holds social justice dear.

Marlaine: Social justice is about creating compassionate social, political and economic structures (such as laws, policies, organizations) that preserve dignity, equity, equality and human flourishing.

Danny: Social justice in nursing means that nurses keep their focus on facilitating humanization whereby every person is provided the means for health, meaning, and well-being in both living and dying and treated with moral respect and dignity. Social justice in nursing necessarily requires nurses to examine and address the underlying person-environment root causes of dehumanization and social injustices that prevent human flourishing and individual and societal well-being.

Richard: Social justice is an expression of a society that values, appreciates, and fosters the freedom and equanimity of all peoples and all creatures to live fully in accord with their greatest and highest good, health, and well-being.

Olga: Social justice is an ideal or core value that emphasizes the creation of conditions that ensure human dignity for all. Social justice (human dignity) can be achieved under conditions of extreme poverty or ill health, and also can be destroyed under seemingly optimal economic conditions, or by well-intentioned (i.e., paternalistic) actions.  

Lisa: Social justice is the equitable distribution of resources and power whereby no individual or group is privileged over another and all have a fair opportunity to contribute, receive, and flourish.

Wendy: Social justice is the embodiment of personal and professional values that uphold and protect the sacred and inherent worth of all human beings to live their lives in freedom; Freedom to express, develop and explore ones individual and unique self on all levels, without religious, societal and hegemonic constraints or condemnation. Nurses advocate for social justice when they address barriers that restrict freedom for self, others, patients and families.

Jane: For me social justice means simply treating others as we would like to be treated. It means creating a society where people feel empowered to succeed and live well emotionally and physically – in every possible aspect of life. It means building on people’s strengths, not weaknesses, so that they can become even stronger.  I tend to think of things in terms of health, but I truly believe the preceding applies to work, relationships, and everything else people experience in society.

Adeline: For me social justice is both an ideal of an equitable (not to be confused with equal) distribution of societal resources and advantages and an ethic that requires us to work towards achieving the ideal.   

For me (Peggy), social justice is all of these things – and my fundamental perspective rests in the understanding that we all participate in the structures that create and sustain social injustice in the world.  Some of these structures we cannot change – after all we live and participate in societies that inherently structure advantage for some and disadvantage for others.  For me our first step toward creating social justice is to understand the ways in which the healthcare systems in which we participate create and sustain injustice, then work with utter dedication to changing what we can.  As noted in the reflections above, social justice is a verb, it is action, and it takes courage!  May our words of reflection lend courage to your dedication to this human endeavor!

social justice wordle

3 thoughts on “The Promise of Nursing: Social Justice and Health

  1. This post is most meaningful to me on so many levels. Look at Miss Colorado’s monologue ” I am just a Nurse” and the media and nursing communities responses to it… so interesting from a social justice perspective re: the perception of nurses as subservient to doctors; yet valued and cherished by patients, and some doctors… Dr. Janet Quinn wrote about being a JUST Nurse; one who upholds and advocates for ethical and human treatment for all… Are we JUST Nurses?


  2. Pingback: Blending Social Justice | Jannae Bridgeman's ePortfolio

  3. Pingback: Course Objective #5 – ePortfolio

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