Diversity in the Nursing Workforce: Where We Are and Where We’re Heading

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The United States has been called a melting pot of cultures, but some sectors within our society boast more diversity than others. As you pursue your DNP degree, you may be particularly interested in learning about diversity in the nursing workforce. Why is diversity so important, where does the nursing workforce stand right now, and what initiatives and goals are in place to increase diversity among nurses?

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Why Diversity Is So Important

Underlining the main reason why diversity is important in the nursing workforce, a blog post from Diversity Nursing stated, “Diversity in the Nursing field is essential because it provides opportunities to administer quality care to patients.”

How is that the case? The blog post went on to state, “When the Nursing workforce reflects its patient demographic, communication improves thus making the patient feel more comfortable. A person who has little in common with you cannot adequately advocate for your benefit. Otherwise, you might as well have a history teacher in charge of advanced algebra.”

Therefore, diversity in nursing is important because diversity in the United States is ever increasing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016, roughly 76 percent of the population identified as being white. That means that about one out of four people is from a different ethnic background. Statistics from the Census Bureau further indicate that around 13 percent of people are black or African American, less than 2 percent are American Indian or Native Alaskan, less than 6 percent are Asian, and nearly 18 percent are Hispanic or Latino.

Diversity is more prominent in some places than in others. For example, Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country, according to the LA Times. Therefore, increasing diversity among nurses in Houston may be especially important to patient care.

Diversity is about more than race, however. According to the previously mentioned Diversity Nursing blog post, “Diversity in Nursing includes… gender, veteran status, race, disability, age, religion, ethnic heritage, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, education status, national origin, and physical characteristics.”

Where Nursing Stands Now

A fact sheet from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) listed some interesting statistics about diversity within the nursing workforce. One such statistic stated that in 2008, nurses from minority backgrounds represented 16.8 percent of the registered nurse (RN) workforce. The RN population included 5.4 percent African American; 3.6 percent Hispanic; 5.8 percent Asian/Native Hawaiian; 0.3 percent American Indian/Alaskan Native; and 1.7 percent multi-racial nurses. Diversity has been on the rise since then; in 2016, AACN data indicated that roughly 30 percent of the baccalaureate and graduate nursing student population came from diverse backgrounds.

However, it is noteworthy that non-white nurses are more likely than their white counterparts to pursue advanced nursing degrees. In fact, in 2016, there were two states — California and Hawaii — where baccalaureate and graduate nursing students from diverse backgrounds outnumbered whites, according to American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) data. This is in line with AACN data from 2008, which indicated that while “48.4% of white nurses complete nursing degrees beyond the associate degree level, the number is significantly higher or equivalent for minority nurses, including African American (52.5%), Hispanic (51.5%), and Asian (75.6%) nurses. RNs from minority backgrounds clearly recognize the need to pursue higher levels of nursing education beyond the entry level.”

Gender imbalance is also a concern within the nursing workforce. The AACN fact sheet mentioned above stated that in 2010, only 6.2 percent of the nursing workforce was composed of men. The percentage increased to more than 9 percent by 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2016, 12 percent of nursing baccalaureate and graduate nursing students were men, according to data from the AACN.

Efforts to Increase Diversity in Nursing

Efforts are ongoing across nursing programs to draw in students from diverse backgrounds. For example, an article from the National Institute of Health mentioned a nursing program that takes a three-pronged approach to attract diverse students. It includes demonstrating organizational commitment, providing financial support to students who require it, and targeting resources to fill the needs of a diverse student population.

It is not only nursing programs that are striving to increase diversity in the nursing workforce. Take Campaign for Action as an example. This organization focuses on several goals related to nursing, one of which centers on increasing diversity. A different organization, Exceptional Nurse, strives to provide resources for nurses and nursing students with disabilities.

Breaking down gender stereotypes may be critical in drawing more men into the nursing workforce. Quoted in a Nursing Times article, one male nurse stated, “I suspect most of my health-visiting colleagues were unsure about whether [men] ought to be doing the job. It never came out overtly but covertly I think it was there.”

Such prejudices, however, are unfounded. An article from Minority Nurse pointed out that, “It’s way past time to break the nursing gender gap… Of course, there really is no significant difference in the actual quality of care that a well-trained, compassionate male nurse can provide. It’s important for men interested in a nursing career to know that this is a valid and much-valued career choice.” There are even dedicated support systems in place, such as the American Assembly of Men in Nursing, to support men who wish to pursue nursing.

Furthermore, men have many reasons to consider stepping into nursing. As the Minority Nurse article brought out, salaries for male nurses are highly competitive; there are many specialty areas that can make nursing an exciting career, and there is a nursing shortage that makes nurses of any gender extremely valuable.

The Future of Diversity in Nursing

As a nursing professional, you may have seen firsthand that diversity is lacking within the nursing workforce. You may be able to contribute to positive change by encouraging minorities to develop an interest in working in health care.

You may also be able to make an impact by advancing your own career. As a nurse leader, you might be able to wield your influence to inspire minorities to step into your field. Whether you are a minority nurse or simply want to encourage diversity in the workforce, an advanced degree may be able to help you achieve your personal and career goals. To learn more, visit the Maryville University Online Doctor of Nursing Practice program.


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