How to Develop and Maintain Social Justice in Nursing

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A nurse cares for patients in a room.

Social justice in nursing requires affordable, high-quality health care that is accessible to all people. However, inequalities in the health care system still exist. Emerging nursing leaders are turning these inequalities into opportunities, pursuing advanced education to create a health care system that’s socially just and accessible to all.

What Is Social Justice in Nursing?

Social justice guides the creation of “social institutions” and the individuals who collaborate with these institutions, according to the Center for Economic and Social Justice. Health care facilities, such as hospitals and private clinics, are examples of social institutions. Created to help people live longer and happier lives, health care facilities provide a positive social service. In turn, individuals such as nurses, patients, community members, and politicians influence change in these institutions. Through their feedback, such as lobbying to lower health care costs, creating custom care plans, and reporting malpractice, the institutions become more accessible for everyone.

Each person has the right to access high-quality health care. Unfortunately, inequality in the health care system remains. African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans are sicker than the rest of the country. And, according to the American Public Health Association (APHA), over a third of the direct medical costs of individuals in these three groups are a result of health inequalities, such as poor access to quality health care or unconscious racial bias.

From a nursing perspective, the goal is to help each patient attain his or her full health potential. However, many health care treatments are cost prohibitive because of high insurance deductibles and medical costs. Other disparities such as lack of access to quality food and technology also can limit the ultimate success of a patient’s health care.

Developing a culturally competent practice is also at the forefront of social justice in nursing. According to the Pew Research Center, between 2015 and 2065, immigrants will account for 88% of U.S. population growth. Nurses must educate themselves on different cultural values and communication styles to create encompassing care plans and promote positive health outcomes.

How Nurses Can Ensure Social Justice in Care Delivery

All nurses uphold a code of ethics set by the American Nurses Association (ANA) that guides decision-making in the nursing profession. One of these ethical obligations identifies the need for nurses to act when there’s social injustice in health care delivery.

With a post-graduate education in nursing such as a master’s-level degree, advanced practice nurses have the knowledge to develop, implement, and oversee policies that ensure social justice in their nursing practice. Acting as primary care providers, nurse practitioners can deliver high-quality care at a comparatively low cost to vulnerable segments of the population that include the following.

  • Expecting mothers. Women’s health care nurse practitioners (WHNP) use their specialized and advanced education and certification to help expecting and new mothers who cannot access an obstetrician or gynecologist. WHNPs can lead community outreach programs to educate expecting mothers and conduct home visits to improve the health outcomes of the mother and baby. WHNPs must be certified through boards such as the National Certification Corporation, which ensures expecting mothers are receiving safe, high-quality care.
  • Rural residents. Residents in rural areas often have limited access to primary care providers because of physician shortages. Advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) who can operate with full autonomy, such as in diagnosing patients and prescribing medications, can increase access opportunities and health outcomes for rural citizens.
  • Patients with chronic conditions. Twenty-five percent of Americans have two or more chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, according to a recent report in Health Affairs. However, managing these conditions is disjointed and accounts for about 75% of health care spending. Using a patient-centered approach to care, nurse practitioners, such as adult-geriatric nurse practitioners (AGNP), can reduce patients’ medical costs and improve health outcomes of patients with multiple conditions.

The Skills of an Advanced Practice Nurse

Each advanced nurse practitioner must possesses a set of key competencies to ensure the promotion of social justice in a clinical setting. APRNs need to have strong communication and critical thinking skills to address health care concerns in their communities. Using a collaborative approach and incorporating feedback from patients, team members, and the community, APRNs can improve the delivery of services in their practices.

These competencies support the essential skill for advanced practice nurses: leadership. Advanced practice nurses need to make consistent, ethical decisions in their practice. Many of these decisions aim to remove health disparities and improve the health outcomes of their community. Advanced practice nurses also may work outside of their practice alongside community members, such as law enforcement or housing development, to address discrepancies in health care and deliver effective programs.

Social Justice and Advanced Nursing Education

Aspiring advanced practice nurses can develop their knowledge and leadership acumen through graduate education such as Regis College’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program.

Students can pursue one of the following concentrations.

  • Adult-Geriatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult Gerontology – Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Psychiatric Mental Nurse Practitioner
  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

Each concentration prepares students to serve the unique needs of a specific population. Students who complete the coursework learn to think critically about the health care system and how they can implement initiatives to improve patient safety and quality.

Influence Social Justice and Change

History records the pulses of social change. Nurses who want to lead change and promote social justice in nursing can benefit from advanced education. Key leadership skills and other competencies are needed to effectively deliver health care in an ethical manner that promotes social justice. Visit Regis College’s online Master of Science in Nursing program to start advocating for positive change in health care.

Recommended Readings

Careers in Nursing: Exploring Nurse Salaries by Specialization
What Kind of Nurse Should I Be? Examining Advanced Practice Nursing Paths
Using Nursing Skills to Provide Primary Care


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “The Essentials of Master’s Education in Nursing” </a
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice”
American Nurses Association, “Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements”
American Public Health Association, Social Justice and Health
Center for Economic and Social Justice, Defining Economic Justice and Social Justice
Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity, “The State of Health Disparities in the United States”
Health Affairs, “Impact of Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, and Physician Assistants on Utilization and Costs for Complex Patients”
Healthcare, “Impact of Nurse Practitioner Practice Regulations on Rural Population Health Outcomes”
Montana State University, “Nurse Practitioner Patients Less Costly to Medicare Than Physician Patients”
National Certification Corporation, Certification Exams
The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, “Implementing the New ANA Standard 8: Culturally Congruent Practice”
Orlando Sentinel, “Solving Nurse Shortage Could Help Women’s Health, Infant Mortality Rate”
Pew Research Center, “Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065”
Regis College, Online Master of Science in Nursing