Diversity and inclusion are words that are often heard in healthcare. The United States population is rapidly changing and growing. So, in response to the nation becoming increasingly diverse and its continually evolving need, along with the fact that nursing professionals come from varying backgrounds, it’s crucial for healthcare institutions to encourage inclusivity and equality.
As in any work setting, inclusivity in the healthcare sector means that all nurses are free to express themselves so that they can work together and devise solutions for any problems that arise. They are also valued for their distinctions and are involved in all relevant scenarios, including hiring practices, decision-making, strategic planning and employee orientation. These processes should be carried out without any sort of discrimination.
Diversity isn’t all about race and gender; it also encompasses ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, veteran status, language, education, age and socioeconomic status. This allows nurses to develop an understanding and awareness of the various beliefs and attitudes held by different patients and enables them to meet the vast and diverse needs of the diverse population they serve. In order to improve health outcomes and achieve health equity for marginalized racial and ethnic minorities, the nursing workforce in the US must mirror the nation’s population.
Importance of having a diverse workforce in nursing
Diversity is of value in practically every industry, and the nursing sector is no exception. The patient demographic in the healthcare industry is just as diverse as the United States’ population. A culturally and ethnically diverse applicant pool results in more eclectic and culturally sensitive medical care professionals. Additionally, various studies have revealed that diverse groups are better at problem-solving and are more prepared, which is highly significant in healthcare.
As mentioned before, the US population includes people of various national origins, religious affiliations, ages, languages, sexual orientations, genders, disabilities and occupational statuses, among multiple other traits. Education is not a one-size-fits-all, but a diversified nursing workforce gets the ball rolling in a more inclusive healthcare industry.
Diversity in the workplace holds great importance and offers many benefits for healthcare employers, their employees and their patients. Here are some advantages of a demographically diverse nursing workforce that indicate its importance:
Improved results and patient satisfaction
Having one’s background and origins understood and respected can not only improve patient care but patient satisfaction as well. This assures patients that their unique cultures, experiences and social needs are represented, and enables healthcare professionals to deliver their services with empathy and inclusivity. Patients who feel that their provider represents them and approaches them with acceptance and understanding are more likely to be assertive and ask questions.
Additionally, nurses who are more culturally sensitive are in a better position to explain diagnoses and test results. More representation among the nursing workforce can help ease a patient’s anxieties, make them more compliant, and more likely to follow their provider’s advice, leading to improved results.
Wide range of perspectives
One of the primary benefits of employing a diverse nursing staff is gaining access to unique and different perspectives. Hiring and bringing together nurses with diverse backgrounds, cultures and experiences leads to more creative solutions and improved brainstorming and enables organizations to generate ideas and solve complex problems during emergencies or routine care. So, when an approach is not working out, a new angle can be presented, evaluated and executed quickly. Allowing for diverse perspectives and fresh new ideas can also result in greater innovation and operational excellence.
The patient population is far from homogeneous. For instance, when attending to patients who come from different backgrounds, language barriers can come across as an issue that can lead to miscommunication and impact the quality of service. So, it’s crucial to have a diverse nursing staff that can relate to a variety of patients.
Building a work setting where the medical staff sees a representation of various cultures and backgrounds will allow them to feel valued and have a sense of connectedness. In work environments that are not diverse, staff may fear being reprimanded or rejected because of their background, their racial status, age, the ideas they voice, what they represent and who they are. It’s important for employees to feel accepted. When they observe that the system treats everyone fairly and justly, they are more likely to voice their opinions and share their ideas, again improving productivity and creativity in the workplace.
This can also lead to fewer complaints and conflicts that can impede overall productivity in the workplace. The nursing staff begins to gain high morale for the organization. They feel a sense of pride for being a significant part of the bigger picture and perform their duties more efficiently. They are eager to give their all as they know that the rewards for their hard work will never be hindered by meaningless discrimination, partiality or favoritism.
Increase in engagement
Representation in the workplace means that nurses can have a say regarding how the facility runs. This enables institutions to introduce procedures and policies to increase adaptation and buy-in. The involvement of diverse opinions in day-to-day decision-making can improve healthcare delivery and staff management.
Higher engagement and improved morale are also great ways to make the nursing staff feel appreciated, retain talented professionals and mitigate staff turnover. A commitment to diversity can also prove to be extremely helpful when recruiting new staff. It allows hospitals and other healthcare institutions to cast a wider net and attract talented medical professionals. It also provides a stronger proposition for candidates who may consider working at a specific hospital or clinic.
Demonstrating inclusivity allows companies to develop a strong connection with the community they serve. Attracting a larger pool of candidates allows for the hiring of more diversely qualified nurses. In addition to attracting nurses to work at a healthcare institution that fosters diversity, the resulting patient care will also attract more people to their services as well.
The current state of diversity in nursing
The nursing profession has become much more diversified in its makeup. According to the 2020 National Council of State Boards of Nursing survey, 23% of RNs belonged to racial and ethnic minority groups, which represents a big jump from the previous survey. However, nursing still remains a bit behind, considering that people of color make up roughly 40% of the overall US population, according to the 2020 census.
According to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce survey, the US nursing workforce based on gender includes:
- Females make up 90.5% of RNs.
- Males account for 9.4% of RNs (an increase of 0.3% since 2017).
- A third gender option of “other” accounts for only 0.1% of nurses.
Similarly, the statistics for the four most represented ethnicities among RNs are given below:
- 80.6% RNs identify as White and non-Hispanic (down from 80.8% in 2017)
- 7.2% RNs identify as Asian (down from 7.5% in 2017)
- 6.7% RNs identify as Black or African American (up from 6.2% in 2017)
- 5.6% RNs identify as Hispanic or Latinx (up from 5.3% in 2017)
While the current nursing workforce in the healthcare industry is more diverse than ever, cultural and gender diversity still lack representation. This, coupled with the fact that non-Hispanic whites will make up less than half of the US population by 2044, may result in patients encountering less culturally competent care, communication barriers and less satisfactory health outcomes.
Barriers that hinder the improvement of diversity in nursing
Taking the academic study, “Perceived Barriers to Success for Minority Students” into account, here are some of the existing barriers that need to be neutralized or overcome to enhance diversity in the nursing sector:
- Lack of mentoring
- Lack of financial support
- Lack of institutional capacity
- Inadequate moral and emotional support
- Insufficient advising
- Insufficient technical support
How lack of representation can impact the nursing sector
Lack of role models
Mentorship plays a crucial role in our healthcare industry. Healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses and medical assistants, always need the assistance of a mentor to coach them in their respective professions. A lack of diversity in the nursing workforce can make it difficult for minority workers to find role models with whom they can relate and learn from. This can hinder their professional growth and ability to deliver the best possible patient care.
In healthcare settings, bias and discrimination do not have to be explicitly expressed to become a severe problem. It can still influence decisions regarding patients when it is embedded in the policies of a healthcare institute. This is known as implicit bias within an organization. Improved diversity in the nursing workforce can hamper the detrimental effects of implicit bias and discrimination in patient care.
Lack of diversity can result in limited perspective when providing patient care, social support and psychological treatment. It can restrict innovation and creative decision-making, but more importantly, it could limit critical observations regarding a patient’s medical history, diagnosis or other socio-economic factors that may directly or indirectly impact their health and well-being.
The scarcity of diversity in nursing can lead to a complete or partial communication breakdown with patients. This can result from a language barrier, differences in cultural norms, differences in philosophy or cultural bias. When patients are unable to express their needs fully, hazardous mistakes and miscommunication can occur, affecting the quality of patient care.
A diverse workforce generally signals a more comforting and welcoming atmosphere for patients. Seeing individuals work in harmony and efficiently enables them to understand that there is no sign of prejudice whatsoever held based on color, race or creed. Such a work system is then perceived as a family unit where everyone is valued.
Additionally, from a patient’s point of view, your professional work ethic may help to reduce any feelings of intimidation that may arise. As a result, the medical staff are able to build lasting connections with the patients, easily communicate with them and share information.
How to enhance and promote diversity in nursing
Here are some ways to improve diversity in nursing:
Addressing issues of bias
According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), implicit bias may be one of the main reasons for the lack of diversity in the nursing profession. In most instances, victims of discrimination and bias are reluctant to come forward and report their mistreatment for fear of backlash, repercussions or other forms of retaliation. Addressing issues of bias quickly, openly and transparently, and supporting co-workers in such situations can create a safe and accepting workspace for everyone.
Making education more attainable and affordable
Another way to promote inclusivity in the nursing sector is by ensuring that diverse populations are offered opportunities to enlist in nursing programs and are the first in line for cost-saving scholarships and other such initiatives. Additionally, healthcare institutes should prioritize cost-effective education and continue introducing initiatives, such as tuition assistance solutions, that make higher education much more achievable for minorities and demographically diverse individuals.
The introduction of programs designed to help connect with students before they set out on a nursing education path or start looking through colleges is also said to be a highly successful and efficient strategy for increasing diversity in nursing.
Create a welcoming work environment
Healthcare organizations should foster a work environment of inclusiveness and equity in every area possible. They should ensure that every staff member’s voice is heard and that everyone feels safe and confident to share their perspectives without fear of judgment or rejection.
Nurse leaders can also actively promote an organizational climate that supports diversity. They can do so by encouraging their staff members to recruit and retain nurses and nursing students from different backgrounds and ensure that flexible part-time employment and scheduling are available. This helps organizations with an inclusive culture to encourage flexibility, collaboration and fairness, as well as maintain a more accommodating workspace that is conducive to the lifestyle needs of all caregivers.
Encouraging community outreach programs
Encouraging minority nursing professionals to get involved in community outreach can also help a great deal in the promotion of diversity in the healthcare industry. When minorities in communities learn about the positive experiences of other minorities in nursing, it can help to motivate those considering pursuing a career in nursing. So, healthcare organizations can encourage nurses to partake in community outreach and share their experiences and stories with others with similar interests. This can promote the nursing institute’s diverse and inclusive culture while simultaneously attracting and encouraging the talent that reflects the local patient population to pursue a professional career in nursing.
What efforts are in place to improve diversity in nursing?
In the last couple of years, there have been numerous ongoing efforts across various nursing programs to draw in students from different backgrounds and develop diverse talent within the community. Following are some examples of organizations that are currently striving to promote diversity and inclusiveness in nursing:
- Exceptional Nurse: Exceptional Nurse is an organization that is dedicated to delivering resources for nurses and nursing students with various disabilities — minorities who are often disregarded when discussing diversity in nursing.
- American Association for Men in Nursing: This organization works as a dedicated support system for male nurses. Given the history of male nurses, breaking down gender stereotypes is vital to attracting more men into nursing careers. To support nurses interested in becoming family nurse practitioners, Carson-Newman offers an MSN-FNP program with courses that are 100% online, so students can continue to work full-time. Many career opportunities for men in nursing have emerged as perceptions of this occupation have moved away from conventional gender stereotypes. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a 46% growth in NP jobs is to be expected by 2031.
- Campaign for Action: Founded by the AARP Foundation, AARP and Robert Wood Johnson, Campaign for Action is an organization that works to help people live longer and healthier lives by strengthening the power of nursing. It aims to promote the best programs, policies and practices to encourage diversity in the nursing ranks. It also works to address institutional and systemic racism and promote equity.
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Group (DEIG): The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) formed the DEIG in 2018 to provide expert assistance to the AACN and its associated schools. This enables them to study sustainable, long-term and strategic goals that can help promote and support diversity in the nursing sector. Late in 2021, the DEIG was rebranded to the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Leadership Network (DEILN), which took up the initiative to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in the nursing workforce and educational programs.