May 24, 2016

On Social Justice Theory’s Place in Healthcare

by Amanda Hayman '16
Adelphi University | Buckley Lecture. Photo Credit: Chris Bergmann Photography

Sister Rosemary Donley, Ph.D.

Speaking at the 11th annual Buckley Visiting Scholar Lecture hosted by Adelphi’s College of Nursing and Public Health in March 2016, Sister Rosemary Donley, Ph.D., offered a novel perspective on the challenges faced in nursing today.

“I think that social justice will provide a very helpful framework and a unique lens to identify and examine some of the gaps we have in nursing, especially in our care and understanding,” said Sister Rosemary, who is with the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. “I’m going to ask you to consider how social justice theory can help you inform your research and assist you as you translate what you have learned into practice.”

Sister Rosemary is a professor at Duquesne University, where she holds the Jacques Laval Endowed Chair in Justice for Vulnerable Populations at the School of Nursing. Her past accomplishments include serving as president of the National League for Nursing and president of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. The American Academy of Nursing named her a “living legend” in 2006.

At the Buckley lecture, Sister Rosemary emphasized the importance of power in all aspects of life—particularly in nursing, where power lies in the ability to decide who is insured, who receives primary care, who receives medication and who can obtain diagnostic testing.

“Social justice, as it is understood by the secular and religious thinkers, is concerned with the distribution and the use of resources,” she explained. “It also examines power, because those with power have control over resources and the ability to examine and determine access to these resources—in our case, healthcare.

“There are those with power and those without power,” she elaborated. “The majority of the population is made up of bystanders who may be uninformed or indifferent about injustices.” Sister Rosemary noted that this group will only react when threatened by either the powerful or the powerless.

“Recognizing an injustice and identifying its root causes are crucial steps toward ending injustice practices. It’s also important to understand whom the research serves,” she said.

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