The nation's patient population includes people from a wide range of ethnicities, religious views and life experiences, and it's growing more diverse every day. Establishing a nursing workforce that mirrors these demographics is a beneficial and even necessary component of patient-centered care.
What Is Diversity in Nursing?
"Diversity awareness," a phrase used by the American Nurses Association (ANA), describes the impartial approach nurses should use during every patient encounter. It is defined as the "acknowledgement and appreciation of the existence of differences in attitudes, beliefs, thoughts and priorities in the health-seeking behaviors of different patient populations; it reflects the nursing profession's contract with society and our responsibility to act according to a strong code of ethics, i.e., to be aware of our own attitudes, beliefs, thoughts and priorities in providing care to individual patients, families, communities and populations."
In addition, it is important to recognize diversity among nursing staff. Nursing has historically been a field dominated by Caucasian females. According to the 2017 National Nursing Workforce Study by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), only 9% of nurses are male and 19% are minorities. The 2010 Future of Nursing report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), now known as the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), encouraged nursing programs and employers to actively seek and encourage diversity among students and employees. This was a measure to not only promote inclusiveness in the workplace, but also to develop a nursing workforce that more closely reflected the diverse demographics of the emerging patient population. By 2044, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that more than half of Americans will belong to a minority group and nearly 20% will have been born in another country by 2060.
How Does a Diverse Nursing Staff Influence Outcomes?
A diverse nursing workforce creates a number of positive impacts:
Stronger communication. Communication is critical in the nurse-patient relationship, and miscommunications have the potential to result in catastrophic delays in timely and appropriate care. While nonverbal cues are often supportive, most health-related communication is verbal. Nurses who are fluent in a patient's language can connect more directly, without the need for an interpreter who may unintentionally alter the message.
Shared perspective. Well-prepared and compassionate nurses can empathize with virtually any patient. They may be limited in their ability to fully understand a patient's culture or background, however, unless they have similar backgrounds. Nurses who share experiences with patients are more adept at assessing their unique concerns while providing culturally competent care.
Improved policies and research. Nurse leaders can be instrumental in crafting effective industry policies and research initiatives. When those nurses are represent the needs of a diverse population — perhaps because they personally identify with their patients — culturally sensitive policies and research addressing health disparities among minorities are more likely to follow.
How Can You Support Diversity in Nursing?
There are numerous ways to support and encourage diversity including:
- Promote the profession. Encourage nursing as a viable career path for anyone with an interest, beginning from a young age, regardless of gender or ethnicity. Share the possibilities of online nursing degree programs that remove limited access and geographic barriers many potential students may have experienced.
- Make a personal commitment to lifelong learning. For example, learn a second language to help bridge communication barriers. While Spanish-speaking nurses are in high demand, there is a need for nurses fluent every language from French and Tagalog to Hindi and American Sign Language.
- Broaden your influence. Become involved in community outreach programs, which often target underserved minorities, and urge other nurses to join you. Participating strengthens your awareness of community members' circumstances.
As the population grows and shifts, a diverse nursing workforce will be critical to patient-centered, culturally competent care. When nurses share similarities with their patients, whether through language, religion, gender or countless other characteristics, patients' unique needs are more readily and fully addressed, and outcomes improve.
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