In today’s global society, nurses care for patients with diverse cultural backgrounds and varied expectations about the role of health care in their own lives. Though often unintentional, cultural insensitivity by health care staff can hinder a positive patient experience—and even physical health. As the role of medicine and nursing practices vary greatly from culture to culture, nursing schools are strengthening their efforts to attract more minority students and diversify the nursing workforce.

Why is it important to attract underrepresented groups into nursing? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, individuals from ethnic and racial minority groups accounted for more than one third of the U.S. population (37%) in 2012, with projections pointing to minority populations becoming the majority by 2043. A 2013 survey conducted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing  and The Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers found that nurses from minority backgrounds represent approximately 17% of the registered nurse workforce: African Americans 6%; Asians 6%; Hispanic/Latinos 3%; American Indian/Alaskan Natives 1%; and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders 1%.

Jan Jones-Schenk, DHSc, RN, NE-BC, national director for the College of Health Professions at Western Governors University, believes that achieving greater health in our nation depends on having health care providers that “are like” the patients we care for in ethnicity, culture, and other demographics.

“The insights and understanding [that] people of like cultures and backgrounds can bring to the health care experience are difficult, if not impossible, to teach,” says Jones-Schenk. “The shared, lived experience can create a bridge for understanding and improving patient and family acceptance and engagement in health-related activities and behaviors.”

By using a combination of targeted outreach programs, eliminating cultural barriers, and preparing students to treat diverse populations, nursing schools are rising to meet the challenge of expanding student diversity and promoting a diverse image of the nursing profession.

Recognizing the Need

Numerous schools are looking at strengthening their recruitment through outreach campaigns that serve to develop community partnerships with culturally diverse organizations and geographical areas. Last year, the University of Delaware School of Nursing won a three-year, $1 million grant from the federal Human Resources and Services Administration to enhance nursing workforce diversity. The purpose of this grant is to implement an innovative and comprehensive recruitment and retention model that will help increase the diversity of the nursing student body, as well as foster a welcoming environment that promotes interest and success for underrepresented minority and disadvantaged students.

The Nursing Workforce Diversity (NWD) grant funds nine undergraduate nursing students from underrepresented minorities and from economically disadvantaged or educationally disadvantaged groups. Current NWD scholars hail from four different countries; six have parents who were born outside the United States; and the participants speak six languages among them: Spanish, Tagalog, Korean, Shona, German, and English.

“Enhancing nursing student diversity contributes to the value of every student’s learning experience, as each person brings their own unique cultural and ethnic backgrounds to the classroom with discussions and interactions that serve to enrich and enlighten everyone’s academic, professional, and personal development,” says Kathy Kump, RN, MSN, MHSA, CWOCN, FNP-C, the director of nursing at Ottawa University. “This will positively impact the needs of all individuals in our culturally rich and linguistically diverse society that complements the demographics of our current population.”

Encouraging Diversity

Removing barriers that may have historically prevented culturally diverse nurses from entering the workforce is an effective tool in diversifying the nursing student population. While Chamberlain College of Nursing does not have a program specifically for Arab American students, in an effort to address their unique cultural needs, Chamberlain College introduced the concept of Chamberlain Care, which encourages colleagues to consider the whole student and not just his or her academic needs.

As an example of Chamberlain’s focus on students, after noticing a number of Arab American student nurses enrolled in the nursing program, one professor contacted the executive director of the National American Arab Nurses Association and helped coordinate a workshop for students and colleagues to gain greater understanding of the cultural differences of the Arab American community. Additionally, for an upcoming clinical course, Arab American students who wear hijabs and long, modest skirts daily requested to wear an alternative to the standard scrub pants. The campus dean, student services advisor, and clinical coordinator worked together to identify a long, scrub dress option that complied with the students’ needs while also meeting the clinical site’s requirements.

“It is a priority at Chamberlain College of Nursing to prepare student nurses to enter the workforce with the knowledge and skills to provide extraordinary care, help our students identify resources that will help them feel more comfortable in their future profession, and engage with peers in different ways outside of the classroom,” says Jaime Sinutko, PhD, MSN, RN, the dean at Chamberlain College of Nursing’s Troy Campus. “We are all vested in all our students’ positive outcomes.”

Preparing Students to Treat Diverse Patient Needs

Central to any nursing school is preparing nursing students to treat diverse patient needs and develop empathy in the workforce. As part of the RN-to-BSN curriculum, Ottawa University offers a Nursing and Cultural Diversity in Healthcare course, which assists the student in improving cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, and cultural competency as a nursing professional. The course examines how cultural diversity affects health beliefs, health care behaviors, and health/illness dynamics.

“Each week, the student is introduced to diverse population groups through lecture, discussions, videos, and case studies in order to expand their understanding and appreciation of various health care beliefs and health care behaviors in our society,” explains Kump. “It is also designed to prepare students to better implement and evaluate individualized plans to improve health care delivery in today’s global, but increasingly smaller, world.”

In addition to this specific class, Kump says they emphasize cultural competency as a foundation and continuing theme in each course throughout the nursing curriculum and highlight the importance of this competency not only in course objectives, but in the program’s overall learning outcomes, as well.

Terah Shelton Harris

Terah Shelton Harris

Terah Shelton Harris is a freelance writer based in Alabama, specializing in health, business, and women's issues.
Terah Shelton Harris

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