“Diversity” can mean the variations of age, race, gender or other demographics that live among humans. Diversity touches disability, sexuality, socioeconomic status and religion. Nurses work with the intersectionality of it all, which is why there is growing support for diversity in the nursing field. Client relationships are found to be more effective when there is representation among nursing staff. As our nation becomes increasingly more diverse, medical professionals encounter people from all different backgrounds on a daily basis.
In a 2010 report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) called for a more racial, ethnic and gender inclusive nursing staff within all hospitals. Nurses have, historically, been female and white and we see this continuing today. With a more diverse nursing staff, the quality of healthcare will improve and health disparities will be reduced, the report said.
That’s not to say we haven’t seen progress in recent decades as the norm for nurses has slowly begun to move away from strictly being white and female. The proportion of nurses from racial and ethnic minority groups has increased in the last two decades, from less than 15 percent in 1995 to more than 20 percent in recent years. The percentage of men in nursing has increased from 8.7 percent in 2010, when the Future of Nursing report was released, to 10.7 percent in 2013, showing an increase of 70,000 men.
Men in nursing are slightly more likely than women to be from a minority group. Approximately 25 percent of male RNs are nonwhite compared with about 20 percent of female RNs, underscoring the intersection of gender inclusion and racial and ethnic diversity in the profession.
Since reports similar to the one published by the IOM have been released, colleges have been working to recruit more diversified groups into nursing cohorts. Despite the progress, universities struggle to catch up and to a keep the pace of the countries rapid demographic changes. For example, men make up 11 percent of undergraduate nursing programs even though they make up 50 percent of the countries population.
According to Minority Nurse, a portal for jobs, scholarships and books for minorities in the nursing profession, there are several ethical practices that break down barriers of stereotyping and close-mindedness to create a better healthcare system for all.
Live, Work, and Breathe Diversity in Everything You Do
Be crystal clear in communicating what you expect from nursing peers and staff. The key to avoiding miscommunications in healthcare is to incorporate diversity efforts. When there is no diversity, people don’t feel welcome or comfortable voicing their needs. Culture and beliefs have a place in the world of medicine but are often there with no voice. Nurses need to be able to empathize and understand the experiences of their clients to give them optimal care.
The best way to move forward with this is to increase diverse hiring efforts. Having nurses of all backgrounds on staff to communicate and relate to patients with an assortment of needs can only strengthen our healthcare system. It facilitates connection to patients who may have a different language, religion, gender or belief.
Just as much as communicating is important, so is listening. Nurses should be well trained in listening to the needs of their patients and serving them to the best of their ability. When a more diverse nursing team is on staff, they can effectively listen to the array of issues that arise from the many demographics of patients that come in. Nurses can then make productive treatment plans and recommendations to doctors.
Hiring African American, Asian, Muslim, Christian, LGBTQ, transgender, male, female and other identifying nurses is vital to the overall care of every patient that comes through the hospital doors.
Break Down Stereotypes
Stereotypes are defined as “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person.” Biases and stereotypes can affect the way that patients receive their healthcare. Categorizing a patient into a specific group is detrimental to the care they receive.
The Wisconsin Network for Research Support (WINRS) and the Community Advisors on Research Design and Strategies (CARDS) worked to shatter stereotypes by creating “the personal” strategy. For over six years, the University of Wisconsin funded meetings between the two groups groups. The CARDS gave candid feedback on how the WINRS can improve their methods of research for those deemed “hard to reach.” The CARDS were a diverse group from different racial, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds.
At the end of the research, WINRS found two things in particular that can help break down stereotypes:
- An open-ended question that has been thoughtfully planned out
- Allowing researchers to explain why they personally got into research
The questions provoked a more personal and emotional response that reinforced human connection. Nurses and patients alike are human. Solidifying that and creating a genuine bond breaks assumptions and stereotypes projected on to patients.
It’s argued that diverse nursing practices begin in the classroom. Madeleine Leininger, RN, PhD and nurse anthropologist, developed the idea of “transcultural nursing,” which is nursing based on a patient’s cultural considerations. Teaching transcultural nursing is a step closer to creating more inclusion in nursing and it shows a level of respect to patients and their background.
There is a long road to breaking down diversity barriers to give all citizens the confidence and trust to seek medical care. However, there are many efforts to instill representation and understanding in the nursing field as our country becomes more and more diverse.