Diversity is a worldwide issue that touches nearly every topic. In nursing, it includes all of the following: gender, veteran status, race, disability, age, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, education, nationality, and physical characteristics. How? Because every day, medical professionals everywhere (especially nurses) encounter people from every race, religion, ethnicity, cultural background, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Every interaction creates diversity and as such the issues that surround the topic are just as vast and as numerous.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) defines diversity awareness as “acknowledgment and appreciation of differences in attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, and priorities in the health-seeking behaviors of different patient populations.” But diversity is more than just a definition. Diversity in nursing means knowing how to respond if a patient becomes violent towards you for your culture, gender, or religion, or what to do next if a medical professional refuses to give you treatment because you identify as LGBTQ. While the ANA urges nurses to grow professionally and personally in their efforts to understanding diversity issues and translating those learnings to quality care for every patient, diversity efforts often involve complex issues that can’t be solved with a simple “yes, we will do better” response. True diversity efforts require action to succeed, so here are some ways to break down diversity barriers like stereotyping and close-mindedness in order to provide better health care for your patients.

Live, Work, and Breathe Diversity in Everything You Do

The number one most important thing you can do to promote diversity and inclusivity in your organization is to communicate everything as clearly as possible. Think about it. Have you ever had a supervisor who did not communicate their expectations clearly to you? Did you ever have a conversation with a patient that was downright awkward or uncomfortable because of the personal or cultural differences between you? Was there a lot of ambiguity in what they asked from you? How well did you work with that supervisor? People get frustrated, scared, flustered, upset, and discouraged. Situations escalate. The key to avoiding miscommunication in the health care space is to incorporate strong diversity efforts. Here’s why:

When diversity and representation is lacking, it’s hard for people to feel welcome. The balance of diversity in the world of medicine starts with culture and beliefs. The best way for health care providers and hospitals to get in on this? By increasing diversity efforts in hiring. Having nurses on staff that can understand the demographics of their patients, communicate, and relate to their individual struggles will improve the lives of patients and the fulfillment of the nurses hired. Why? Because it opens the door to reaching an understanding of your patient’s morals, values, language, religion, and other demographics (i.e., it makes them more comfortable in their environment).

But communication is a two-way street, therefore listening is just as important. When a diverse workforce of nurses exists, they can more effectively listen to what is bothering their diverse population of patients. This is made possible because not one nurse can relate to every cultural background, speak every language, or identify with every gender identity or sexual orientation. Nurses that actually exist in these spaces can make quality suggestions and treat their patient for the best results. In other words, hiring African American, Asian, Muslim, Christian, LGBTQ, transgender, male and female (and many many more backgrounds, religions, identities) nurses are vital to the overall care of every patient.

This communication is not only between health care providers and seekers. It is also along the health care provider plane. Clear and consistent communication among nurses and doctors will help lead to smooth transitions in providing care for a patient. Staffing a diverse workforce will lead to breaking down the barriers of stereotypes and keeping an inclusive and respectful mind when providing healthcare.

Breaking Down Stereotypes

The first major barrier is breaking down stereotypes. Stereotypes are defined as “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person.” They have become fatal fallacies in our society, and in the medical profession, they can be a major player in increased discomfort between patients and nurses alike. Categorizing someone into a group or as an image of something they don’t identify with puts a strain on their livelihood and overall health. As a consequence, especially from a nursing standpoint, it can hinder a nurse’s ability to give proper medical treatment and impedes a patient’s ability to recover. No nurse or patient should feel negative pressures from their social environment for their background, especially when receiving medical treatment. Therefore, it is crucial that we attempt to break down stereotypes to help improve the acceptance and abundance of diversity in nursing to advance the openness and inclusivity of treatment and recovery for people of all backgrounds.

Shattering stereotypes is difficult. The Wisconsin Network for Research Support (WINRS) and the Community Advisors on Research Design and Strategies (CARDS) aimed at doing so through the power of “The Personal.” For six plus years, the University of Wisconsin has been funding meetings between these groups. The CARDS were people who were giving advice to researchers who want candid feedback on how they can improve their methods from those who are deemed “hard to reach.” The CARDS were made up of those who come from diverse racial, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds. At the end of the research, WINRS found two things that can help break down the stereotype barriers:

  1. An open-ended question that has been thoughtfully planned out
  2. Allowing researchers to explain why they personally got into research

The reasoning behind the questions were so they would bring out past experiences in members that provoked positive emotions and reinforced human connection. Establishing an emotional experience makes it easier for people to connect. Justification for the second finding was because CARDS members originally thought they were in it only for the money.

So, what can we learn from this study on stereotypes? The biggest thing we can learn is that disconnect between groups of people is cause for concern. Stereotypes stem from a lack of understanding between groups. At the end of the day, both parties of guest researchers and CARDS members received feedback from those who they didn’t think it was possible. This can be translated into day-to-day care for patients. Finding a common ground between nurse and patient can lead to effective communication and better health care for all. In other words, the key to defeating stereotypes once and for all is with understanding, respect, and compassion.

Establishing Inclusivity

Creating an inclusive culture in health care is incredibly important in today’s world. Duquesne University explains that inclusive nursing practices begin in the classroom. Madeleine Leininger, a nurse anthropologist, developed the idea of “transcultural nursing,” which is nursing based on a patient’s cultural considerations. Teaching transcultural nursing is a stepping stone to inclusion. Interweaving the idea of providing care based on a patient’s cultural beliefs can help establish an inclusive mindset that is respectful to the patient and will translate over to your coworkers.

Developing an inclusive and respectful mindset starts at building strong relationships and understanding, much like breaking down diversity barriers. While efforts have increased to teach transcultural nursing in the classroom, organizations have been created to help support nurses and patients where they can access resources and communities to help them adjust.

The ANA works tirelessly to be a resource for all nurses of every background so they feel welcomed and comfortable. They offer resources from a number of communities, such as the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. They also offer resources that help you treat patients that are obese, mentally ill, or the elderly. By providing access to all of these communities in one place, the ANA wants to create an industry that is able to treat patients from every walk of life.

Diversity is the key to providing the best health care possible. Understanding how to break down the barriers of stereotyping patients and creating a culture of inclusion within a practice are the two biggest challenges that nurses face today. That is made even more difficult when it comes to being a traveling nurse. Institutes like ANA and WINRS work so hard to educate nurses and medical professionals to knock down the blockades that hinder diversity in nursing.

Susan Whitman

Susan is the Executive Vice President at Freedom Healthcare Staffing and has years of experience working with nurses all over the country.

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