Diverse Nurses for Diverse Patients

The United States is made up of a multitude of races, ethnicities and cultures. The nursing workforce has historically consisted of mostly white, female nurses. But now the nursing profession needs more nurses who reflect America’s growing mixed patient population. To address this shift in demographics, healthcare organizations and nursing schools have to make an effort to recruit and prepare nurses from all racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

What Do “Diverse” and “Diversity” Mean?

Diverse is a term that defines a group of people with different sets of characteristics and experiences. The following are some characteristics that make individuals unique:

  • Age
  • Beliefs
  • Cultural background
  • Disabilities
  • Ethnic heritage
  • Gender
  • Language
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Socioeconomic status

Generally, diversity is the inclusion of different kinds of people into an environment like a geographical location or workplace. Diversity is a combination of cultures, ideas, perspectives and values.

Why Is Diversity in Healthcare Important?

A diverse nursing staff helps remove inconsistencies in healthcare. Without diversity in nursing, patient care can be compromised due to communication issues. Nurses should be sensitive to the possibility that beliefs and preferences can vary depending on a patient’s culture.

When nurses understand the factors that affect a patient’s physical, emotional and mental health, they can administer culturally competent medical care. This can mean that nurses need to conduct a cultural awareness assessment to adapt their delivery of care. The assessment may include asking patients the following:

  • Where were they born?
  • How long have they lived in the U.S.?
  • What is their ethnic affiliation and how strongly do they adhere to it?
  • Who are the members of their major support group?
  • What languages do they speak and what is their primary language?
  • How do they communicate non-verbally?
  • How important is religion to them?
  • What are their dietary restrictions?
  • What is their economic situation?
  • What are their customs and beliefs regarding medical treatments and procedures?

How Are Healthcare Organizations Helping the Cause for More Diversity?

In its 2010 The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), renamed the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) in 2015, recommended that baccalaureate programs come up with strategies to increase diversity in the nursing workforce. The IOM followed up with its recommendation in 2015 by repeating the necessity for the recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce.

The Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action — comprising three mission-oriented organizations: AARP Foundation, AARP, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) — works in conjunction with the Diversity Steering Committee to promote diversity in nursing. The Diversity Steering Committee is committed to recruiting and retaining more nursing students from underrepresented groups such as Asians, blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and men.

What Are the Statistics for Diversity in Nursing?

According to the 2017 report Sex, Race, and Ethnic Diversity of U.S. Health Occupations (2011-2015), the nursing workforce is still predominantly white and female. The total number of nurses in the workforce is 3,327,165 — 90.4 percent of the nurses are women and only 9.6 percent are men. The table shows the breakdown in nursing by race and ethnicity.

Race/Ethnicity Percentage in Nursing Workforce
White 64.4
Hispanic 16.1
Black 11.6
Asian 5.3
Other Races 1.8
Native American/Alaska Native 0.6
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders 0.2

What Is the Responsibility of Nursing Schools to Increase Diversity?

To expand diversity in the workforce, nursing schools have to enroll and prepare more nurses from a multitude of cultural backgrounds. Consequently, the nursing faculty also has to become as diverse as the students. Thus, nursing schools must take steps to employ educators from various races and cultures and encourage students to obtain a master’s and doctoral degree. Students pursuing doctorates can go on to pursue research positions, which will enhance diversity in the nursing profession.

Everyone is entitled to quality patient care. Nurses should always be careful not to discriminate or stereotype patients. They must remain culturally competent. Healthcare facilities can improve patient care by boosting the number of nurses with diverse backgrounds. When nurses can speak a patient’s language, recognize varied cultural practices and accept their patients’ attitudes about healthcare, they are able to deliver effective care and successful outcomes.

Learn more about Northeastern State University’s online RN to BSN program.


American Journal of Nursing: A More Diverse Workforce

Campaign for Action: Building a More Diverse Nursing Workforce

National Academy of Medicine: The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health

MI Nurses Association: Culturally Competent Nursing Care and Promoting Diversity in Our Nursing Workforce

Campaign for Action: Diversity Steering Committee

Nursing Made Incredibly Easy: Embracing a Diverse Nursing Workforce

Becker’s Hospital Review: IOM Committee Releases 10 Recommendations for the Future of Nursing

Campaign for Action: Increasing Diversity in Nursing

Public Health Reports: Increasing Racial/Ethnic Diversity in Nursing to Reduce Health Disparities and Achieve Health Equity

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Sex, Race, and Ethnic Diversity of U.S. Health Occupations (2011-2015)

Diversity: What Is Diversity?

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