Growing Rates of Nursing Student Diversity

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As the United States’ population evolves and the nation’s health care needs continually change, the health care industry has advanced in response. Discover how rates of nursing student diversity have increased in recent years and learn how this trend could impact the future of the nursing profession.

What Recent Nursing Student Diversity Statistics Reveal

A five-year study led by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) shows that racial and gender diversity in the nursing profession has already increased significantly in the 21st century. While the percentage of diverse Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) students remained relatively stable from 2012 to 2016, the percentage of diverse graduate students in master’s, Ph.D., and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs increased by several points.

Nationwide, several key states stand out for having high percentages of diverse nursing students. In California, New Mexico, and Hawaii, for example, over 50 percent of nursing students are considered diverse. In states like Wyoming, Vermont, and Maine, however, diverse nursing students make up less than 10 percent of the total body.

As the AACN study reveals, white nursing students continue to make up over half of enrollees, while about 30 percent of students have backgrounds considered more diverse at all program levels. For instance, over 15 percent of DNP students are African American, while over 7 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander and about 5 percent are Latino. Less than 1 percent of students are Native American, while about 2 percent are multiracial.

Across the nation, however, one distinct group continues to experience inadequate representation in the nursing student body. Though men constitute nearly 50 percent of the population in the United States, they made up just 12 percent of baccalaureate and graduate nursing students in 2016.

The Nursing Profession Is Poised for Significant Change

For those who track the development of the health care industry, it may come as no surprise that diversity is on the rise among nursing students. In fact, two key factors have prompted the nursing profession to prepare for substantial change.

As Modern Healthcare explains, the nursing profession needs to replenish its workforce rapidly, as many senior nurses are quickly approaching retirement age. This means that entry- and mid-level nurses are preparing to take on positions with greater responsibility, and roles at all levels are opening up at increased rates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 1 million jobs for registered nurses will open during the next few years. With so many new nurses starting down this career path, the face of the nursing profession could change significantly.

At the same time, the makeup of the U.S. is also undergoing rapid change. As Public Health Reports states, projections indicate that the U.S. will become a majority-minority nation by 2043. By 2060, projections show that both the Hispanic and Asian populations in the U.S. will represent double the figures from 2012. The nursing profession may reflect this substantial shift in demographics, but only with concerted efforts on the part of academic and industry leaders.

Students From Varied Backgrounds May Lead to Diverse Faculty

As demographics shift and the profession changes, so must the makeup of nursing faculty. The National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice (NACNEP) reports that the current makeup of nursing faculty tends to be relatively homogeneous. As the profession grows and faculty shortages increase, however, industry leaders have identified an even greater need for faculty members from diverse backgrounds.

As more diverse students pursue advanced practice nursing degrees, they may also enter academia at an increased rate. This may enhance the inclusive appearance of the profession, further encouraging diverse students to pursue graduate-level nursing degrees.

A Diverse Nursing Profession Can Contribute to Health Equity

Health care experts recognize that the need for a more diverse nursing profession extends beyond career opportunities alone. When people from a wider variety of backgrounds become nurses, they bring greater cultural understanding and awareness to the profession.

According to the NACNEP, this can help achieve health equity throughout the U.S. in several ways. For instance, nurses from racial and ethnic minority groups tend to be more likely to practice in underserved or rural areas. They may also provide patients with better access to health care services, education, and information, due to their ability to understand patients’ cultural norms and communicate in patients’ native languages. Ultimately, a more diverse nursing profession can even lead to improved patient satisfaction and better health nationwide.

How Academic Programs Can Ensure Future Diversity in Nursing

Even though the nursing profession has experienced a steady increase in diversity over the past five years, industry leaders recognize that they must take steps to help spur this growth. As the AACN explains, nursing education policymakers have already proposed several courses of action. Perhaps most importantly, they intend to present a more inclusive image of the profession. By doing this, they can more effectively project the concept that professionals from all backgrounds can become nurses and pursue successful, rewarding careers.

Effective student outreach is also essential, and many baccalaureate, master’s, and BSN to DNP online programs intend to enhance their efforts to reach out to more diverse student groups. This may include actively recruiting members of underrepresented student groups in various stages of their educational pursuits, such as through pipeline programs as early as middle or high school.

Efforts to increase diversity should not end when students enroll in programs, however. As the AACN explains, education administrators must also strive to support potential students through the application process as well as mentor them throughout their educational careers. Without these essential efforts, students from diverse backgrounds may abandon their nursing studies for programs with better support and more infrastructure.

A wider range of students is exploring careers in nursing. With effective graduate education and top-notch experiences, students from diverse backgrounds may have more opportunities than ever before to make a difference in the nursing profession.