In recent years, nursing has become an increasingly diverse field. Not only are there more job opportunities available, but the nurses seeking those positions are also more likely to come from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Patients are more diverse too — a trend that will continue for the next several decades. Fostering diversity in nursing, beginning with recruitment into nursing programs, is instrumental in producing a workforce that can provide culturally competent care.
Evolving Patient Demographics
The demographic makeup of the United States has seen gradual shifts every generation. However, the changes over the next several decades may result in a more racially and ethnically diverse population than ever before. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation will become a plurality population by 2043, where no racial group will hold the majority. Minorities will comprise 57 percent of the total population by 2060 — a 20 percent jump over 2012 estimates.
All of these factors play a significant role in the distribution and delivery of healthcare. Each year since 2003, the Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality (AHRQ) has reported on the quality of U.S. healthcare as well as the cultural and socioeconomic criteria that may increase disparities in care. Their research indicates that racial and ethnic minorities tend to have less access to healthcare services, and the quality of available care is often substandard and intermittent. These patients may experience poor health outcomes, especially when chronic conditions that require complex care are involved.
Bridging the Gap
The consensus in the industry, especially among professional healthcare organizations such as the American Nursing Association, is that encouraging a diverse nursing staff — one that mirrors the diversity of the patient population — can bridge gaps in care and improve patient satisfaction and outcomes. A 2013 study conducted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and the Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers found that only 19 percent of licensed nurses belong to a minority group, although newly licensed nurses are more likely to come from diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds.
While increasing diversity in nursing is promising, room for improvement remains. For example, only 3 percent of nurses identify as Hispanic or Latino. However, the Hispanic and Latino populations will likely double by 2060, totaling nearly 129 million and accounting for one in three U.S. residents. Similarly, Asian and African American nurses comprise only a small percentage of the nursing workforce — just 6 percent each — yet substantial population growth within these groups is also likely.
To provide culturally competent care to an increasingly diverse patient population, nurses with similar backgrounds are essential. Patients may identify more strongly with nurses of the same race or ethnicity, who can break down cultural and/or language barriers. Nurses with a personal connection to a specific culture are also essential in identifying areas that may be underserving particular demographics. These nurses can provide recommendations to remedy identified shortfalls.
Nursing educators and universities play a part in improving diversity. In fact, increasing diversity among nursing faculty is also a key issue. The AACN reports that only 12.3 percent of full-time nursing school faculty are minorities. Students pursuing a nursing degree online may find more coursework dedicated to understanding the various trends in healthcare, including how family dynamics and cultural and socioeconomic factors affect patient care. Nurse educators with diverse cultural backgrounds may offer different viewpoints, and they can be instrumental in preparing nurses to effectively treat a diverse patient population.
Into the Future
As the demographics of the nation’s population change over the next several decades, nurses will find an equally diverse patient population seeking treatment. Patients are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, prompting the need for nurses who not only provide culturally competent care but reflect the characteristics of the patients they serve. Diversity in nursing can help bridge existing gaps in care and promote better outcomes and satisfaction among patients.
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2014 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report. (2015, May). Retrieved from Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
Budden, J. S., Zhong, E. H., Moulton, P., & Cimiotti, J. P. (2013, July). Highlights of the National Workforce Survey of Registered Nurses. National Council of State Boards of Nursing
U.S. Census Bureau Projections Show a Slower Growing, Older, More Diverse Nation a Half Century from Now. (2012, December 12). United States Census Bureau: Newsroom Archive
Enhancing Diversity in the Workforce. (n.d.) Retrieved from American Association of Colleges of Nursing
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