What is diversity in healthcare?
Healthcare providers with different cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, age ranges, and/or sexual identities — can have a significant impact on the availability and quality of care patients receive.
- Gender Identity
- Sexual Orientation
- Physical Handicapped
- Mental/Emotional Handicapped
Why diversity in healthcare matters for patients
Patients from underrepresented, underserved, and at-risk communities benefit from having informed and diverse healthcare providers. It’s essential that patients feel respected and protected to break through resistance that might interfere with treatment.
- Many LGBTQIA+ community members report feeling ashamed, anxious, and nervous when seeking medical care as they fear judgment and microaggressions from providers.
- Members of varied religious faiths have specific guidelines around birth, death, diet, and healing rituals.
- Patients and their families don’t always speak English, so having a diverse health care workforce means having interpreters and bilingual medical professionals on staff.
Educational efforts and inclusion practices are imperative in providing the very best care possible.
The Treatment Gap
Currently, minority populations develop more chronic illnesses, both mentally and physically, because of decreased access to preventative care. Socioeconomic factors that create barriers between minorities & wellness:
- Education level
- Proper housing
- Adequate nutrition
Patients are also more likely to seek preventative care from a medical professional of the same race that they trust. Research shows that members of underrepresented minorities are more likely to practice medicine in geographical areas where there are fewer practicing caucasian physicians, making care accessible to communities previously lacking in medical resources. An increase in preventative care means saving thousands of lives each year.
Changes in ethnic & cultural diversity in healthcare:
In the next thirty years, minorities will constitute 50% of the US population. However, as of 2017, only 19.2% of RNs come from minority backgrounds. Fortunately, this percentage is on the rise, which is good news for nurses and patients alike.
Nurses are making a difference among diverse populations.
The field of public health & community health nursing concentrates on the health of entire populations. It compensates for part of this treatment gap by creating readily available programs for at-risk communities. For example, the North Carolina Minority Diabetes Prevention Program aims to help community members make sustainable lifestyle changes and provides support groups to lean on throughout the process.
According to the US Food & Drug Administration, “racial and ethnic minorities have a higher burden of diabetes, worse diabetes control, and are more likely to experience complications.” Public health nurses are working at the government-level to expand healthcare to the entire population. The field is increasing, and RNs interested in this career path should investigate higher education programs focused on public health to see if it’s the right choice for them.
Why diversity in health care matters for nurses.
Nurses make up the largest portion of the United States’ healthcare system; there are nearly 4 million nurses in America, and we are still at a shortage of one million more. Nursing’s high turnover rate is due to baby boomers retiring, burnout, and subsequent job dissatisfaction, among other factors. A more diverse health care workforce means more nurses to share the workload, a solution to the national nursing shortage, and the job satisfaction all nurses deserve to experience.
Nursing gender gap
Nursing has long been thought of as a career for women, creating a societal block for men to become nurses.
- Presently, just under 13% of nurses are male — a percentage that continues to grow slowly year over year!
- There over 2 million female RNs compared with only 300,000 males.
Recruiting more men into nursing could alleviate the burden of the national nursing shortage, creating a more balanced and homogenous workplace.
Achieving a more diverse health care system
The same socioeconomic factors keeping minorities from quality healthcare are keeping minorities from entering into the healthcare workforce. Thankfully, as society shifts to more diverse demography, efforts are being made across the country to level the playing field and create a more inclusive system for all.
- Georgia lawmakers are creating loan repayment and scholarship programs to recruit more minority medical students.
- A children’s hospital in Boston created a nurse-led 2-year program for all employees to diversify their staff through the removal of barriers faced by people of color who wish to become nurses.
- Mentoring programs have been developed to pair minority nursing students with more advanced students or practicing nurses who help support them academically as well as with personal growth and leadership skills.
- Research on how to better attract men into nursing programs is being conducted. Findings include having male personnel on staff and inviting high school personnel on all-expenses-paid visits to nursing school campuses.
With the expansion of inclusion and retention programs, both medical workers and their patients will benefit. Additional recommended reading:
- 5 Non-Bedside Nurse Jobs You May Not Know About
- Charge Nurse Role: What You Need To Know
- 10 Best White Nursing Shoes
Guest author Pamela Mahler is a content specialist for Aspen University. She is passionate about learning and producing valuable resources that empower others to enhance their lives through education. Aspen University offers CCNE accredited programs at every degree level. Aspen created affordable degrees and 0%-interest payment plans with transparent pricing so that nurses can focus on courses, not the fine print.
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