Changes in the status of women’s reproductive health and protections have been at the forefront of new headlines in recent weeks. The leaked Supreme Court documents indicating that the justices are on the precipice of turning over 50 years worth of reproductive health precedent has a lot of people pausing to consider the implications of losing something they have largely taken for granted. Many women are recognizing that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, they will have less bodily autonomy than corpses often have in their home states.
Of course, for many women – particularly minority women in deeply conservative states – these rights were slipping away long before this. In many of these states, the number of reproductive health clinics is extremely limited and causes undue burdens on women trying to access them. Multiple studies on the topic have shown that minority women, especially those from poorer backgrounds, are the most likely to face difficulties accessing any sort of reproductive healthcare than their more affluent, white peers.
Regardless of where our personal beliefs related to abortion rights fall, we can all agree that women having better access to reproductive healthcare is a valuable endeavor. For many nurses out there, this means striving to break down barriers that limit healthcare access. It also means becoming an advocate for health equity. But how does one become an advocate within their own community?
Many of the inequalities that nurses see every day aren’t easy ones to just address and deal with. Rather, they are ingrained, pervasive community and cultural issues that will take years to fully unpack and start to address in a positive manner. However, there are things that nurses can do to help address some of the healthcare inequalities that minority women face regularly.
Perhaps one of the most powerful things nurses can do to help address health disparities is to recognize and empathize with the differences. Minority nurses with a background in minority communities are in the position to play a unique and powerful role here. Who better to build a bridge of understanding and trust than someone who already has an understanding of the social, cultural, and economic factors that may be influencing healthcare choices.
Nurses can also be the linchpin in making sure that healthcare facilities are working to adopt more inclusive practices both for employees and for patients. These can be things such as:
- Immediately addressing any form of blatant discrimination.
- Advocating for policies that promote human rights and equity.
- Working with numerous professionals across disciplines to ensure patients are receiving holistic healthcare.
- Encouraging medical trials that are inclusive and address the concerns of minorities.
- Seeking out and promoting other professionals that are striving to address equity issues in their communities.
When working directly with patients there are a few things that can be done to help decrease health disparities. Arguably the most important is building trust in the community, which most certainly will not happen overnight. Small steps to start can include things like doing preventative health education out in the community, finding strategies that can help with payment for medical services, and being available for health-related questions without requiring an appointment.
Unfortunately, minority women are typically at greater risk for developing a number of diseases. For instance, African American women are twice as likely to develop breast cancer. Likewise, African American women are more likely to develop high blood pressure earlier in life than white women. There are many factors that influence this, but ultimately detection is one of the best forms of prevention.
Women can benefit from regular health screenings, but many are reluctant to do so. Going to the doctor’s office is uncomfortable, time-consuming, and potentially expensive. Helping women, especially minority women, understand the value of preventative health screenings over the long term is a vital role that nurses can play. Promoting more screenings can be one straightforward way to catch and treat issues before they become life-altering health problems.
Soft Skills Matter
Minority women, particularly women of color, are more likely to face negative health outcomes than other groups. Ingrained inequalities and cultural perceptions of the healthcare system play a major role in this. As nurses work to address these health disparities it becomes apparent that not only is a deep knowledge of nursing and healthcare important, but so are the soft skills that help convey the message.
For example, soft skills such as empathy are critical to understanding and adequately responding to the difficulties that some patients are facing. Empathy can lead to better, more realistic health prescriptions and outcomes. Patients are also more inclined to trust and listen to someone that shows an understanding and compassion for the information they are providing about themselves and their health.
Communication is another important factor. Even the best messages can be lost if they are not delivered in an understandable and relatable way. Patients do not like to feel talked down to and many very deeply want to understand the healthcare system before they have to make major decisions within it. Clear communication about procedures, health factors, costs, and outcomes are also imperative for building trust and making patients feel comfortable about their health choices.
Healthcare inequalities are significant for some demographics of the population, particularly minority women seeking reproductive healthcare. Nurses can make a real difference in starting to address some of these disparities by becoming advocates for their patients. It involves building trust, showing empathy, and encouraging positive health choices. None of it is easy, but it can add up to make a powerful difference in local communities.