Chapter 3: The Invisibility of Black Nurses

Making Other Healthcare Workers Visible

Now you have learned about diverse nursing leaders and trailblazers within the Canadian healthcare system. Take a moment to think about other individuals who may be forgotten or rendered invisible while supporting the healthcare system. Essential care providers, specifically Personal Support Workers (PSWs) and Registered Practical Nurses/Licensed Practical Nurses (RPN/LPN), are frontline workers who may be placed at great risk in times of crisis (Bharati, 2020). If you have ever worked or visited a hospital or a healthcare facility, you were more than likely to have met a PSW or an RPN/LPN. You might have mistaken them for a registered nurse or manager. Who are they, and what do they do?

A PSW, sometimes called a Personal Care Attendant, is an unlicensed healthcare provider who cares for the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of a person who cannot care adequately for themselves, typically the elderly and those with disabilities. Their main responsibilities include supporting patients with the activities of daily living and working with an interdisciplinary team to ensure the patient receives the best quality of care (Ontario Personal Support Worker Association [OPSWA], n.d.). Canada has become increasingly reliant on PSWs to take care of our aging population and those with disabilities (Bell et al., 2022).

RPNs and LPNs are licensed healthcare providers who work independently or in collaboration with other members of a healthcare team. They can assess, plan, implement, and evaluate care for clients as well as promote health by using a holistic model of care (Canadian Institute for Health Information, n.d; Registered Practical Nurses Association Ontario, n.d.).

The work of these caregivers can be physically, emotionally, and psychologically demanding, but those who are Black, Indigenous, or other people of colour may be subjected to racism and even violence (Adler & Bhattacharya, 2021). During the pandemic, PSWs and other healthcare workers have been on the front lines working selflessly to care for the ill and vulnerable. They experience anxiety, stress, occupational burnout, fatigue, guilt, and fear, and some have even died (Bharati, 2020). 

In summary, Black, Indigenous, and other racialized healthcare workers are at increased risk due to systemic racism and their historic and ongoing contributions go largely unnoticed. We all have a role to play in celebrating and recognizing these healthcare workers and creating an anti-racist workplace environment where all are visible and can thrive. We must respect and celebrate the roles of those who so easily go unnoticed.



Adler, S., & Bhattacharyya, S. (2021). Beyond the nurses and doctors: Structural racism and the unseen frontline service workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychiatric Services, 72(5), 594-596.

The Alliance for Healthier Communities. (2020, June 2.). Anti-Black Racism impacts health and as healthcare organizations we must act now. The Alliance for Healthier Communities.,

Bell, R., Golden, A., Alofs, P., & Robins, L. (2022, May 16). Personal support workers are critical to caring for Canada’s aging population. Governments need to treat their jobs as essential. The Globe And Mail.

Bharati, S. (2020). Personal support workers are the backbone of health care but the bottom of the power structure. Center for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion.

Canadian Institute for Health Information. (n.d.). Licensed Practical Nurses.

Das Gupta, T. (2020, May 25). Inquiry into coronavirus nursing home deaths needs to include discussion of workers and race. The Conversation.

Ontario Personal Support Worker Association. (n.d.). PSW Roles and Responsibilities. Ontario Personal Support Worker Association.

Registered Practical Nurses Association of Ontario. (n.d.).

Share This Book