There is much discussion about the need for diversity in nursing and the importance of educating a health care workforce that mirrors the population. Recently, Dr. Ernest Grant, president of the American Nurses Association wrote, “A diverse workforce allows us to use our varying cultural perspectives to ensure all patients and populations receive optimal and empathic care, which also may speed up their recovery and reduce the risk of preventable chronic conditions.”
Powerful words – “speed up their recovery and reduce the risk of preventable chronic conditions” – which are exactly the actions and goals we should be striving to achieve in an effort to increase the health of the population and eliminate health disparities.
While contemplating diversity in nursing, a few key population statistics are worth considering. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 49.2% of the American population are men, 41.5% of the American population are of a race other than Caucasian, and 21.3% of the American population speaks a language other than English at home.
However, according to the 2017 National Nursing Workforce Survey, just over 9% of working RNs are men, and only 19.2% are minorities. While reliable data about the number of nurses who speak a language other than English is scarce, based on the statistics demonstrated above, it’s unlikely this number mirrors the population.
In order to reduce health disparities by addressing inequalities and eliminating care gaps, it is critical to educate a vast and diverse health care workforce. The systems that educate and train nurses should place a focus on increasing the diversity of their nursing student population. Another key step is to make programs increasingly accessible through holistic admissions processes to admit a larger number of qualified nursing students.
Additionally, providing students with exposure to patients of all types of backgrounds and demographics during education and training, will help them achieve a better understanding of patient needs and how they can connect with them to provide quality care and improved experiences. Diversity in all its forms, from innate characteristics including age, race, and mental health to acquired characteristics like religion, education, and language skills, requires an awareness and respect for every person. This helps transition students from viewing their work through a cultural competence to a more inclusive lens of cultural humility.
Building cultural humility begins with a better understanding of the unique challenges every student faces and putting in steps and processes for helping them succeed while in their program. By teaching students that they are cared for, students are able to better focus on providing exceptional care for others. Putting each student at the forefront at each touchpoint and never letting them lose sight of their passion for health care, helps them become an extraordinary nurse who cares for others.