The population of the United States will likely undergo a considerable transformation in the coming decades, becoming substantially older and more racially and ethnically diverse. At the same time, threats of a worsening shortage of nurses and nursing faculty could affect the delivery of healthcare. Ideally, the demographics of the nursing workforce would mirror the patient population and, in turn, improve the likelihood that healthcare systems provide culturally competent care.
Nurse educators play an integral role in producing a highly skilled, compassionate and diverse workforce. However, minorities are significantly underrepresented in these positions. Educators who reflect a diverse culture can often provide students with unique insights, particularly regarding cultural competence standards and disparities related to race and ethnicity. They may also attract more minority students to Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Education programs, thereby increasing the overall number of minority educators.
Demographic Trends in the U.S.
The demographic makeup of the U.S. will change significantly over the next several decades. Analysis of data from the most recent census show that the majority of youth (under age 18) in the U.S. are people of color, and the U.S. as a whole will become a majority-minority nation by the middle of the 21st century, meaning no racial group will be the majority. Further, U.S. Hispanic and Asian populations will likely double by 2060, and the number of people who identify as multiracial could triple.
In addition, the aging Baby Boomers continue to increase the percentages of the elderly population. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that one in six adults were 65 or older in 2020, compared with one in 20 in 1920. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all Baby Boomers will be older than 65 by 2030, resulting in the 65 and older population reaching roughly one in four U.S. residents that year.
An aging population requiring more healthcare services may strain the healthcare industry. Producing a nursing workforce who can meet both the cultural needs of a diverse population as well as the demands of the aging is imperative — and largely reliant on the ability to increase minority nurse faculty and educators.
Minority Nurse and Educator Shortages
BLS reports that here are currently more than 3 million professionally active registered nurses (RNs), and job growth for the occupation is projected at 6% from 2022 to 2032. Yet the nursing shortage — including a disproportionate shortage of minority nurses and educators — remains. BLS estimates that there will be over 193,000 job openings for RNs each year through 2022 due to job growth drivers and attrition, reflecting the imbalance between supply and demand for nurses.
According to the 2022 National Nursing Workforce Survey, roughly 20% of nurses identified as being from an underrepresented racial minority group, and 7% of nurses reported being of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. Asian and African American groups accounted for 7.4% and 6.3% of the nursing workforce, respectively. Clearly, these numbers don’t match the changing demographics of the U.S. population, representing a significant discrepancy between the diversity of nurses and patients.
Racial and ethnic disparities are even more apparent among nurse educators. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), educators from minority backgrounds account for just over 19% of full-time nursing school faculty.
Changing Demographics of Nursing Students
While minority groups are underrepresented in the nursing and nurse educator workforce, the current generation of nursing students is increasingly diverse — a good sign for the future of nursing. AACN reports, of the students enrolled in baccalaureate, master’s and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs in 2022, 43%, 40.5% and 40.7% respectively were from underrepresented groups. While those enrollment numbers are closer to equalizing racial and ethnic representation, another factor may hinder that process.
Many nursing schools cannot accommodate interested applicants. Further research from AACN found that U.S. nursing programs turned away over 78,000 qualified applications in 2022. According to AACN, “more than 10,000 applications were turned away from graduate programs, which may further limit the pool of potential nurse educators.” The lack of qualified faculty is one of the main reasons nursing schools must turn away qualified applications, leading to the cyclical shortage of both nurses and nurse educators.
Diversity in Nurse Education
While nursing programs have seen an increase in the minority groups represented among newly licensed nurses — and even with minority enrollment at the bachelor’s, master’s and DNP levels exceeding 40% — there remains a substantial disparity. As noted above, less than 20% of nurse faculty members belong to a minority group. The data indicates that minority nurses are either unable to complete their degree programs, or if they do, they are choosing not to pursue teaching positions. There may be other extenuating circumstances, including the lack of faculty role models with whom minority students can identify.
With many nursing programs turning away qualified students and university faculty failing to mirror the diversity of the student and nursing populations, the underrepresentation of minorities persists. While some nursing programs have recruited minority faculty members, many other programs are still understaffed — both in overall faculty and in racial and ethnic representation.
The Call for Minority Educators
As the nation’s population grows more diverse, so should the nursing workforce. By doing so, nurses can provide more culturally competent care to patients. Increasing the number of minority nurse educators is key, however, as they are instrumental in presenting alternate perspectives and serving as role models for students. Degree programs like The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) online MSN in Nursing Education can provide a convenient, flexible pathway to a rewarding career for nurses who want to help address underrepresentation in the field through educating the diverse nursing workforce of the future.
Learn more about UTA’s online MSN in Nursing Education program.