Diversity in Nursing

July 19th, 2012


By , BSN, RN

Where I work people of every culture and nationality surround me. My coworkers represent every major demographic in this country including Hispanic, Asian, African, and every other culture you can think of.

My patients are seemingly even more diverse and my hospital retains a whole staff of translators. However, I work in a major metropolitan area and the Texas Medical Center is the largest medical center in the world. So, it’s no surprise we see so many cultures and races passing through our doors.

What is changing in this country is that aforementioned cultural diversity is only a small reflection of what makes up the entire United States. The assimilation of immigrants to the U.S. is quite literally what built this country and the metaphor of the melting pot is just as applicable today as when it first came into vogue in the 1780s.

To provide for the health and well being of these many different cultures you need healthcare providers who are culturally competent. According to studies, this is where we are lacking in the U.S.

A 2002 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), an organization commissioned by Congress to address healthcare disparities, found that communication barriers between patients and healthcare workers negatively affected the quality of healthcare received by minorities.

One way to breach those communication barriers is to produce more healthcare providers from more culturally diverse backgrounds. With minorities making up 36.6% of the U.S. population as of the 2010 census, it only makes sense that we find ways and means to increase the number of minorities represented, in among other places, nursing schools.

Nursing Workforce Diversity Grants

It was announced this week that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is giving a $1.1 million grant to the Mennonite College of Nursing at Illinois State University to help with efforts to diversify the nursing workforce.

The (Bloomington) Pantagraph reported July 18, that Mennonite announced the three-year grant the day before, and the dean of the nursing college used the term, "thrilled."

The school will receive the money over the course of the next three years and the college will use $370,000 each year to recruit, train, and retain people from underrepresented groups to nursing.

The money isn’t all designated for use at the college level. Mennonite's plans include using the money to partner with middle schools to get minority children interested in nursing and starting future nurses' clubs among high school students.

The federal dollars are made available through a program authorized under the U.S. Public Health Service Act. The Nursing Workforce Diversity (NWD) Program awards grant dollars to eligible applicants to increase nursing education opportunities for individuals who are from disadvantaged backgrounds, including racial and ethnic minorities underrepresented among registered nurses.

The recipients must achieve greater student diversity through projects that incorporate retention, pre-entry preparation, and student scholarships and/or stipends.

NWD grant recipients are required to address all three program components during each year of the project. The project must include a cohort of nursing students who, within the three-year award period, will graduate and be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN or obtain a baccalaureate degree in nursing, if already licensed as registered nurses.

According to data from the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses (NSSRN), nurses from minority backgrounds represented 16.8% of the registered nurse (RN) workforce. Considering racial/ethnic backgrounds, the RN population is comprised of 5.4% African American; 3.6% Hispanic; 5.8% Asian/Native Hawaiian; 0.3% American Indian/Alaskan Native; and 1.7% multi-racial nurses. It is hoped that grants to schools like Mennonite will help raise these numbers to better match our changing national demographics.

It's Not Just Students 

What is also interesting is that once minority students embrace a nursing education surveys show those same minority students are more likely than their majority counterparts to continue their nursing educations and earn advanced degrees.

Also according to the NSSRN, nurses from minority backgrounds are more likely than their white counterparts to pursue baccalaureate and higher degrees in nursing. Data from 2008 show that while 48.4% of white nurses complete nursing degrees beyond the associate degree level, the number is significantly higher or equivalent for minority nurses, including African American (52.5%), Hispanic (51.5%), and Asian (75.6%) nurses. RNs from minority backgrounds clearly recognize the need to pursue higher levels of nursing education beyond the entry- level.

Now, while we are working so hard to attract more minority students into nursing, that does mean there need to be more nursing faculty from minority populations.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, few nurses from racial/ethnic minority groups with advanced nursing degrees actually pursue faculty careers. According to 2010 data from AACN member schools, only 12.6% of full-time nursing school faculty come from minority backgrounds, and only 6.2% are male.

Back in 2004 the Sullivan Commission on Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce released a report saying, “The fact that the nation’s health professions have not kept pace with changing demographics may be an even greater cause of disparities in health access and outcomes than the persistent lack of health insurance for tens of millions of Americans. Today’s physicians, nurses, and dentists have too little resemblance to the diverse populations they serve, leaving many Americans feeling excluded by a system that seems distant and uncaring.”

Now it’s 2012 and while the government is hard at work addressing the universal health care needs with the Affordable Care Act we are still lagging behind on our providers actually reflecting the patient population.

So, Congratulations to Mennonite College of Nursing; keep up the good work. As for me I will go back to the hospital and revel in the amazing diversity that surrounds me. I have learned much from my coworkers and from my patients about being culturally competent. I know that not all people react the same way to illness and hospitalization and that as the caregiver I must match their needs, not the other way around, if I truly want to see the health of my diverse patient population improve.

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