Building a More Diverse Nursing Workforce
White and female.
No two words more accurately describe the nation’s nursing profession. A full 83 percent of nurses are white, and about 90 percent are female.
In a world of fast-changing demographics, many recognize those statistics need to change and that our nation needs a nursing workforce that is more representative of the people it serves.
That’s why creating and fostering a more diverse workforce of nurses that reflects America’s demographics, provides culturally competent care, and contributes to reducing health disparities that exist between different groups is a key goal of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and AARP. The Campaign is working to implement recommendations from the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) landmark 2010 report on the future of nursing.
Health care disparities are inequalities that occur in health care access and quality among different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Despite years of efforts to address disparities, the fact remains that certain ethnic and racial groups in the United States receive lower quality health care than others and suffer from worse health—regardless of their health insurance coverage, their income, or where they live.
“One intervention is to have health care workers who are more representative of the people that they serve,” said Winifred V. Quinn, Ph.D., director of advocacy and consumer affairs for the Center to Champion Nursing in America, a joint initiative of AARP, the AARP Foundation, and RWJF.
Because nurses make up the largest part of the health care workforce, it is particularly important that they reflect the diversity of the people they care for. Nurses can help create a Culture of Health and provide culturally competent care—or care that is tailored to meet the needs of people with diverse behaviors, beliefs, and values, including their social, cultural, and linguistic needs—that can reduce health care disparities. For example, studies show that when clinicians speak the same language as their patients or are sensitive to cultural differences, there are better health outcomes, Quinn noted.