Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Diversity in nursing
Modern America isn’t a homogeneous melting pot; it’s more like a savory stew with many different ingredients and layers of flavor. The makeup of our patients is diverse, and the makeup of nurses should reflect this diversity.
We all know the history of nursing. Excepting the military, which employed the services of skilled male orderlies, professional nurses were nearly always European American women, caring for the wounded in war and pioneering sanitation and good nutrition. However, this isn’t the whole story and our legacy shouldn’t remain so narrow as to consider only similar women as nurses.
The makeup of modern nursing is 78% European American and 90% women. European Americans make up well over half of the nursing population, with African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans making up most of the balance of nurses. Only 1 nurse in 10 is male, and military service is still a factor for many men who choose nursing. Several reasons exist for this deficiency—not just the nature of bedside nursing, but also wages—and, although changing, there still exists a cultural lack of respect for men in this role.
Embracing diversity creates a nursing environment in which everyone is appreciated for what they bring to the table. Collegiality, cooperation, and innovative ideas are part of the story, but this environment of acceptance will also translate to our patients—partly because the profile of the nurse will more accurately reflect the profile of our patients.
How can we move forward to change the current dynamic? The first step is to encourage underrepresented groups to consider nursing as a career choice through recruitment on college campuses and in high schools. The second step is retention. Studies have shown that even when minority nurses enter the workforce, they have a higher than normal rate of leaving nursing in the first few years of practice. Lack of acceptance by coworkers and an unwelcoming workplace environment are the two factors most often listed by exiting minority nurses.
What’s the answer? We need to embrace diversity within our ranks by creating a supportive and accepting environment for each other. We also need to encourage recruitment of all new nurses, especially minorities. Nursing will be that much richer for embracing everyone.
By Pamela Walden, BSN, RN, CHPN, OCN
Direct Care Nurse, Stem Cell Transplant • VA Medical Center • Nashville, Tenn.
Editorial Advisory Board Member • Nursing made Incredibly Easy!