Health disparities stubbornly persist across diverse patient populations. The quality of care and health outcomes for patients from the LGBTQIA community, marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and low-income populations still trail those of other patients. In fact, the annual National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report consistently shows that certain population groups continue to receive inferior care.
How can the healthcare community best tackle this problem? While the nursing profession has employed various strategies, a key tool to reducing health disparities involves diversity in nursing. Patients who see themselves represented in the nursing staff are likely to be more transparent, more confident in their treatment, and more willing to engage in recommended plans of care. This all helps improve patient outcomes.
What Is Diversity in Nursing?
Diversity is about more than just race and gender; it encompasses disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, and veteran status, as well as differences in background, experience, education, and even thought. Diversity in nursing enables nurses to cultivate an awareness and understanding of the various beliefs and attitudes held by different patient populations.
The Role of Diversity in Meeting Patient Needs
Nurses care for patients from every age group, socioeconomic background, race and ethnicity, educational level, and gender identity. Building the communication and trust needed to provide appropriate care to such diverse patient populations can pose significant challenges. However, nurses may be better prepared to meet patient needs when they share their patients’ backgrounds. This often affords nurses insight into their patients’ treatment preferences and decision-making processes.
When nurses have an awareness of such differences, they can respond in ways that ensure those differences don’t become barriers to the delivery of quality healthcare. This also plays a critical role in fostering good communication and providing culturally competent care — both key to tackling health disparities.
The Connection Between Diversity and Culturally Competent Care
Culturally competent care means adapting care to meet a patient’s cultural needs, in addition to medical needs, and personalizing care so it both acknowledges and honors a patient’s culture. Like diversity, culture in this instance is similarly broad and inclusive, expanding beyond simply nationality or linguistic background.
To deliver culturally competent care, nurses must overcome several barriers, such as cultural assumptions and language differences.
Diversity in nursing often makes overcoming these barriers that impede culturally competent care easier. For one, a diverse nursing staff possesses broader and deeper knowledge about various cultures. As an example, Black nurses may have unique insights about Black patients that give them an advantage when trying to build rapport, make culturally appropriate treatment recommendations, or avoid cultural misunderstandings. Similarly, a transgender nurse may possess valuable insights regarding the needs and concerns specific to patients from the LGBTQIA community.
Within diverse staffs, nurses can share their cultural knowledge. This gives the whole team a better insight into meeting patient needs and delivering equitable and culturally competent care across diverse patient populations.
The Value of Recruiting and Nurturing Diverse Nurses
To meet the needs of the nation’s increasingly diverse population, nurse leaders must ensure the nursing community reflects changing patient demographics. This involves recruiting and nurturing a diverse nursing workforce.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing names the recruitment of diverse nurses as a top priority for achieving health equity in the U.S., as diversity in nursing offers improved:
- Patient education
- Adherence to treatment plans
- Patient satisfaction
- Communication between patients and nurses
- Health outcomes
Benefits of a Diverse Nursing Workforce
Patients respond well to a diverse healthcare staff. When they see themselves represented in a nursing staff, patients tend to feel more engaged and participatory. Receiving care from people who share their language, religion, or other cultural similarities creates a sense of familiarity and greater ease. The more nurses and patients can relate to one another, the more likely patients can communicate openly and trust treatment recommendations.
Additionally, seeing nurses from diverse backgrounds collaborating signals inclusivity. It lets patients know they have entered an environment in which their healthcare providers will strive to treat them equitably regardless of their differences.
Diversity in Nursing Promotes a Learning Mindset
In addition to improving interactions with patients, diversity in nursing promotes an innovative work environment. Diversity gives nurses additional opportunities to learn about more effective approaches to various patient populations from their colleagues. This promotes the development of more culturally competent practices and helps nurses share information with one another that allows them to adjust approaches to care.
Diversity in Nursing Helps Address Mistakes in Minority Patient Treatment
A diverse nursing staff can also help address issues seen in the treatment of people of color because of conscious and unconscious bias. For example, several studies have shown that healthcare providers underdiagnose and undertreat the pain of Black patients.
A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General found that white participants did not as easily recognize pain on Black faces as they did on white faces. These types of biases likely contribute to the numerous findings that show medical professionals often dismiss the pain of Black patients.
However, diversifying the nursing staff can help remedy such problems and others resulting from racial and cultural biases.
The Role of Diverse Nurses in Shaping the Profession’s Future
Diverse nurses, especially those of color, can play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the nursing profession. As the need for an increasingly diverse nursing workforce grows, the success of nurses from underrepresented groups will help determine if the healthcare community can effectively recruit the diverse nurses needed.
According to the most recent National Nursing Workforce Survey, people of color make up only 19% of the current nursing workforce. However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, people of color make up 28% of the population. Such discrepancies lead to gaps in care.
The achievements of nurses from diverse backgrounds can inspire other nurses from underrepresented groups to join the profession. These nurses can lead the way in breaking down biases and misconceptions about patients and contribute to greater cultural awareness within the nursing workforce.
Promote Diversity in Nursing
Promoting diversity in nursing can help transform healthcare and ensure greater health equity. Those inspired by the opportunity to reduce health disparities and advocate for social justice should consider career options in nursing and public health. St. Catherine University offers undergraduate and graduate nursing programs designed to equip graduates with the skills needed to deliver culturally competent care.
Learn more about how St. Catherine University’s degree programs in nursing can help you advance your career in healthcare.