Nurses carry the modern healthcare community on their back (quite literally)! Filling so many shoes of caregiver, advocate and medical professional at the same time, nurses work tirelessly to ensure the well-being of patients. Since the ancient times, this profession, although it formally didn’t exist as such until Florence Nightingale came along, has been regarded as noble and selfless. However, back in the day, becoming a nurse was only an option for a privileged few.
Historically, with hospitals being linked with catholic churches and medical knowledge being less accessible, nurse roles were reserved for nuns and elite women. It wasn’t until the world wars that men started to join the nursing ranks because it was considered too dangerous for women to be on the battlefield.
We have come a long way since then, but the echoes of representative disparity in nursing exist even today. Gender and cultural diversity in the nursing workforce, both, continue to be minimal. A survey in 2020 revealed that most nurses, 80.6 % to be precise, in the present-day workforce were White or Caucasian. When it comes to gender, only 13% of nurses in the workforce were male.
Why do we need diversity in nursing?
A diverse nursing workforce isn’t just about ticking representation off the list. With patients coming from diverse backgrounds, their spectrum of needs will also be manifold. A team of diverse nurses can create a welcoming environment where differences are acknowledged and addressed, all while keeping the patients’ best interests in mind. So, DEI nursing initiatives can offer effective ways for the healthcare community to come up with better patientcare strategies.
Diversity in the nursing workforce can lead to:
- Cultural sensitivity: Having coworkers from diverse backgrounds can help nurses perceive challenges faced by patients from similar backgrounds. It can also help them move away from stereotypes and biases by understanding the nuances of cultural diversity. The knowledge and experiences emerging from cultural exposure provides enriching personal experiences which can translate to a more empathetic approach to patientcare.
- Better communication: Hiring diverse nurses can add to breaking down language barriers and offering better support to patients. With someone who understands them looking out for them, patients will be more comfortable with voicing their needs. Despite being in an unfamiliar setting at their most vulnerable point, they will feel safe to know that their well-being is still the top priority. This kind of trust can boost patients’ confidence in the healthcare system. It can also encourage more people to seek medical aid in times of need.
- Reduced healthcare disparities: While illness is universal, access to healthcare resources isn’t. A survey of people with access to health coverage revealed that nonelderly White and Asian people had the lowest uninsured rates while nonelderly AIAN, Hispanic, NHOPI, and Black people had comparatively uninsured higher rates. Diverse nurses are better equipped to understand and address the nuances of these inequalities. They also have stronger grounds to advocate reforms for better healthcare access for minority groups.
- Diverse perspectives: A diverse workforce in any professional field is a sign that the community is flourishing socially, culturally, and economically. The workplace ends up becoming a converging point for ranging perspectives. And when it comes to a dynamic field like nursing, diverse opinions can contribute to overall progress of the field itself. Through a wider range of perspectives, problem-solving approaches, and ideas, complex challenges become easier to navigate, ultimately benefiting patient care and the healthcare system as a whole.
Strategies to enhance DEI in nursing
To sustain a diverse workforce, DEI can’t just be a policy on paper. Inclusion of culture and diversity in nursing needs to begin from the roots. Creating a warm and welcoming environment that’s all about accepting and respecting differences, play a big part in retaining diverse nurses. So, to support a diversity friendly workforce, there needs to be:
- Diverse recruiting practices: Recruiting can be diversified by employing various channels like social media, AI recruiting software, and engaging with minority support groups. This can open up the talent pool to a great extent and help to negate unconscious biases.
- Inclusivity training: Introducing inclusivity training can raise awareness of differences and how to accept them. A paper published in the Journal of Professional Nursing proposes that through inclusive teaching resources, students can carry the legacy of inclusivity lifelong. It sets them up to create and foster an inclusive workplace culture as they progress in their careers. Later, when they occupy more influential positions as nurse leaders and administrators, they can lead by example.
- Support groups: Encouraging support groups can help empower minority communities as they can receive community support which can deter perceptions of vulnerability. Support groups can be instrumental in campaigning for institutional reforms for DEI nursing.
- Addressing pushback: Nobody wants to stress about a hostile work environment, especially if their job is demanding as is. Unaddressed pushback against DEI nursing initiatives can result in diverse nurses resigning even after successful onboarding. There must be clear communication about how DEI policies can impact the present workforce so that they aren’t blindsided.
Diversity in nursing, at this point, is a necessity. With diversity impacting healthcare outcomes in so many ways its effect can no longer be ignored. When dealing with a diverse patient population, diverse nurses can be instrumental in improving patientcare. Plus, on a bigger scale, these nurses can reduce healthcare disparity and contribute to resolving nursing shortages.
It’s about time serious DEI efforts are implemented in nursing. A cultural and gender diverse nursing workforce can dismantle the legacy of exclusion and gender stereotypes associated with nursing. These have only sought to limit the progress of the field. So, by welcoming people of diverse backgrounds, nursing can truly advance as a practice. Only then can the medical field achieve an equitable balance in aspects of quality, effectiveness, and delivery of healthcare.
- AACN Fact Sheet (aacnnursing.org)