Diversity in Nursing Education: Support for an Evolving Population

Diversity in Nursing Education: Support for an Evolving Population

Imagine taking a national examination that culminates your educational experience, as well as impacts your future career potential. This national exam is delivered in English, but that is not your primary language. The pressure has been mounting because you know that the opportunity to take your passion for helping others to the next level hinges on passing an exam. Welcome to a day in the life of an English Language Learner (ELL) nursing student who is planning on taking the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

As in many industries, diversity is a hot topic. There is a growing demand for a diverse nursing workforce to represent and meet the needs of the increasingly ethnic and racially diverse populations they serve. According to a study in 2014, minorities encompass around one-quarter of the nursing workforce and one-third of the United States population. A National Center for Biotechnology Information report states demographic trends are predicting rapid growth in racial and ethnic minority populations by 2060. This projected growth highlights the need for organizations to recruit and retain a diverse nursing workforce that mirrors the nation’s increasing culturally diverse population. Fostering diversity in the nursing workforce may help assist with language and cultural gaps currently seen between clients and health care providers.

How can we, as educators, provide ELL nursing students with the tools they need to feel confident in school, so they can become safe and effective health care providers in the future?

Experts identify that ELL students need a greater amount of time to read and complete their English-language assignments. Often, ELL students need to translate text into their primary language first, and then translate back to English in order to complete assignments and interact effectively in class. This process is extremely time-consuming and can be frustrating for many students. Educators need to be aware of the time factor when assigning readings and calling on students in class. Doing so allows ELL students to build their confidence not only with the course content, but also with class participation as well. It is important for the leadership teams within nursing schools to encourage faculty to implement learning strategies into their classrooms, so diverse students feel more comfortable and courageous. Simple strategies include:

  • Providing monthly “success” sessions where students can learn studying techniques, note-taking best practices, and test-taking strategies.
  • Supplying flashcards and vocabulary lists to aid in studying.
  • Implementing a study buddy system with faculty-assigned groups.

Another way to support diverse student needs is to integrate appropriate learning resources throughout the curriculum and learning cycle. We know that “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” is a phrase often used to describe situations where one has the tools in front of them but chooses not to use them. To help combat this paradigm, embedding resources into courses directly helps students find and utilize them as needed, and on their own terms. ELL students should have the ability to easily leverage learning resources such as professional and peer tutoring, automated grammar checkers, online writing labs and live library chats. Anecdotal data from a small pilot study conducted by Rasmussen College in 2018 showed students were much more likely to use just-in-time, “quick,” on-demand resources as opposed to resources that required preplanning, such as scheduling a tutoring appointment or waiting for feedback on an assignment.

Colleges and universities should also consider partnering with organizations that specifically support diverse populations within specific career fields, such as the Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association (AAPINA) or the Rasmussen College partnership with The African Nurses Network (TANN) at its Blaine, Minnesota campus.* TANN was founded by Lyna Nyamwaya with the goal of building a network to empower nurses, decrease disparities, and increase cultural awareness. TANN works closely with the campus to design monthly workshops focused on study strategies, as well as offering professional tutoring. Seeking partnerships that reflect the diversity of the students that make up an institution allow students to make connections and find mentors with similar backgrounds and experiences. These partnerships also allow faculty to learn and observe how to effectively work with specific demographics of students.

We know diverse students appreciate and benefit from the mentoring of diverse faculty, especially those who look like them and have had similar experiences. Nursing schools should continue to recruit and retain diverse nursing faculty to provide unique resources to their students as well as to enrich the college environment. All faculty, regardless of background, need to have training in strategies to best support diverse nursing students in order to set them up for future success.

While progress has been made in response to the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) 2011 report that called for increased efforts to increase diversity in the profession, a 2017 progress update by the Campaign for Action shows the IOM still recommends that increasing diversity in the nursing workforce be a priority.  It is our responsibility to our students, the nursing profession, and our patients to partner together to empower and embrace our future ELL nurses so we can provide a robust, culturally rich experience for all.


*Monthly fee paid for by Rasmussen College

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