Palliative care can be equally rewarding and challenging. Patients are navigating the emotional and physical turbulence of terminal illness. The right professional can be instrumental in ensuring patients’ needs are met to make their period of care more comfortable.

So much of who people are impacts their experience of the palliative journey. This includes the nuances of their cultural, racial, and socioeconomic identities. It should be no question, then, that minority nurses are an invaluable resource at this time. Yet, the current state of palliative care suggests that the industry doesn’t quite reflect this.

Let’s explore the intersection of minority identity and palliative care nursing. What are the opportunities for minority nurses, and why are they so vital in addressing the challenges related to this sector?

The Opportunities for Minority Nurses 

There’s no question that the medical sector, in general, is in greater need of nurses from various backgrounds. However, it’s also essential to look at the disparities within specializations. The needs of patients taking their palliative care journey suggest that minority nurses can find plenty of opportunities in this field.

The changing demographics of the aging population reflect this. It’s worth noting that there is relatively little research into the racial and ethnic disparities in palliative care staff. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that suggests a need for change. A Journal of Palliative Medicine study reported that over the next 20 years, the population of older minorities is expected to grow by 160%. This is far more than their white counterparts. The same study also cited a bereaved families survey that found “African Americans were less satisfied with the quality of end-of-life care.”

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This data tells us there are opportunities for minority nurses to contribute to the specific needs that aren’t being met for the growing population of minority patients who will be seeking palliative care in the future.

Alongside the general need for hospice nurses and palliative care nurses, these opportunities may include:

  • Palliative nurse practitioners (NPs): Given the disparities in minority palliative care, there must be greater diversity in care leadership roles. Minority NPs can influence strategic decisions that ensure care plans are more relevant and positive for a broader range of patients.
  • Palliative educators: Palliative care is an emotionally and technically challenging field. Therefore, it requires skilled educators to guide professionals in developing appropriate medical, cultural, and empathic abilities. Nurses from minority backgrounds have invaluable perspectives to provide here.

Certainly, minority nurses themselves can seek the opportunities and talk to one another about them. However, it’s also important to encourage administrators and industry leaders to engage a diverse range of professionals more actively. This should involve pitching palliative care to minority students and nurses looking to shift careers. There must also be more significant financial and psychological support that makes palliative care a practical and attractive option.

Addressing the Challenges 

There are clear opportunities for minority nurses in palliative care. But on a practical level, it’s important to establish what specific challenges these professionals are well-equipped to address. Firstly, this helps nurses better serve patients. But it’s also valuable information that care providers and administrators can use to pitch palliative care to minority nurses who may not have considered specializing in it.

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Culturally Relevant Care 

Palliative care deals with the end of life. Naturally, various cultural nuances influence this experience. One recent report outlined a significant variety of cultural differences related to the just treatment of pain during palliative care. People’s ethnicities, religious beliefs, and even generational demographics can influence how pain at the end of life is both perceived and managed.

This means that minority nurses can be better equipped to offer culturally relevant care to patients with similar backgrounds. In effect, these culturally competent nurses are likely to impact patient experiences and outcomes positively.

Actionable Community Knowledge 

Palliative care doesn’t always occur within hospice facilities. Nurses can also treat patients in their own homes. Patients from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds can face challenges related to the areas in which they live. Minority nurses can use community knowledge to identify issues and integrate solutions into care processes.

For instance, patients living in heavily industrialized communities may be subjected to poorer air quality. One study found that Black and Hispanic citizens bear 56% and 63% more air pollution, respectively, than they produce. Nurses with greater familiarity with these communities may better understand the signs of air pollution in the home. These may be environmental changes, like unpleasant odors, or additional medical symptoms, such as coughing and congestion. As a result, minority nurses can respond swiftly with preventions and treatments that improve palliative patients’ comfort.

Knowledge of the Practical Barriers 

Let’s face it: Nobody better understands the barriers presented by cultural disparities than those subjected to them. Therefore, minority nurses can be powerful allies in improving the palliative care protocols that give hurdles to both patients and professionals.

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A continuous commitment to process improvement is vital in any industry. Regularly assessing protocols reveals inefficiencies, issues with regulatory compliance, and tasks ripe for streamlining. It’s important to involve a greater diversity of nurses in mapping out and analyzing care processes. A team with a broader range of perspectives is more conducive to spotting barriers to good care that a more culturally limited one would miss. This enables a positive collaboration for redesigning processes to meet all patients’ needs.

Conclusion 

Palliative care is one of the most challenging medical specializations. It deals with a particularly turbulent time for patients and their families and all the more reason, then, to ensure that culturally, racially, and socioeconomically diverse professionals are leading the way.

Nevertheless, addressing the growing disparities in care for those of minority identity needs immediate action. This is likely to require meaningful collaboration. Minority nurses can actively pursue palliative care and advocate for the systemic changes that make a genuine difference. However, administrators and industry leaders have a role in ensuring sufficient respect, support, and resources to make this a viable and enriching option for nurses.

Amanda Winstead
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