It goes without saying that being raised in an ethnic community can have its challenges, even with our modern progressive age; it appears some fundamental differences remain in certain societal lifestyles, customs and understandings. In many communities there is a significant lack of cultural sensitivities that is often at odds with mainstream America and can pose problems with such things as language barriers and ignorance in cultural traditions and behaviors. If you add health care into the mix, it can open a whole level of other issues to contend with, sometimes at the detriment of the patient’s care and treatment.

That is why recruiting minority nurses to outreach to their ethnic communities can benefit all parties involved. If a prospective student comes from a similar background, the patient will respond much differently to treatment than someone who lacks the same cultural heritage and understanding. Those who can speak the patient’s native tongue will ease the concerns and anxiety levels of both patient and care provider alike. After all, even the best nurse/doctor may inadvertently offend someone by merely not understanding certain customs. But encouraging young people into the world of nursing has its own challenges as well.

Historically, the numbers of ethnic nursing students remains well below that of their white counterparts, something that is not reflective of our ethnic diversity among the American public. And with the threat of severe nursing shortages by the year 2025, this could forever impact the quality of our overall health.

It is difficult to erase past wrongdoings, especially those that were inherent in our nation’s institutions of higher learning. Unfortunately, institutional discrimination ran rampant for years, thwarting prospective students who tenaciously attempted to earn their way through school. Even for those who rose above the system, pursued their degrees and graduated, were often met with dismal job prospects available in their communities; health care facilities that were severely lacking in funding and proper administration.

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This example of institutional racism really hit home when a news report exposed a story about six inner city youths who deliberately injected themselves with HIV as (in their perspectives) the only viable means to receive health care, shocking even the most seasoned health care veterans.  How in our day and age, could we have a system that would encourage the notion that intentionally causing a life-threatening illness meant that you would finally receive the care so desperately needed? According to the journal Evidence-Based Nursing, this is a prime example of what can occur when cultural awareness and understandings are neglected and unaddressed.

How can we prevent such a horrific act from ever recurring? By encouraging more health care workers who have the cultural backgrounds and sensitivities to outreach to these underserved communities. Recruiting young people while they are still in high school (even junior high/middle school) can be that essential first step to begin their journey into a career that will open many doors and opportunities for them, not to mention being instrumental in serving the needs of their own community.

The evidence of this can be seen in the recruitment efforts of prospective Native American students who can earn their educational degrees all while serving the needs of their Native American and Alaskan populations. By looking inwards and embracing their already tight-knit community, the Indian Health System and the Native Alaskan Tribal Health Consortium offer many programs to guide their younger generations into the rewarding and exciting world of health care. Those who are interested can access the information on the Indian Health System website and start the process as soon as possible.  Intern opportunities and scholarships are offered for those who qualify.

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By working for their community, minority nurses are better able to reinforce those cultural bonds and furthering their relationships with those who share their ethnic heritage. Their face can also reflect the positive changes and opportunities available for those who might not have faith in a system that has historically failed them.

If this sounds like your experience, then you too, should look to see how you can help your community achieve success and further options for the next generations.

You never know who else you can inspire by achieving your own dreams.

Kathryn Norcutt has been an active member of the health care community for over 20 years.  During her time as a nurse, she has helped people from all walks of life and ages.  Now, Kathryn leads a much less hectic life and devotes most of her free time to writing for RNnetwork.

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