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Health Disparities Among Vulnerable Populations: Evolution of Knowledge Over Five Decades in Nursing Research Publications

Flaskerud, Jacquelyn H.; Lesser, Janna; Dixon, Elizabeth; Anderson, Nancy; Conde, Francisco; Kim, Sue; Koniak-Griffin, Deborah; Strehlow, Aaron; Tullmann, Dorothy; Verzemnieks, Inese


Background Considerable attention has been focused recently on conducting research on the health disparities experienced by some Americans as the result of poverty, ethnicity, and/or marginalized social status. Nursing research has a major role to play in developing this body of knowledge.

Purpose The purpose of this paper is to review the contributions that Nursing Research made through its publications over the last five decades in developing the body of tested knowledge about health disparities in vulnerable groups and to analyze the progress made.

Methods Criteria for reviewing the literature were established. All Nursing Research publications between 1952 and 2000 were searched manually, indexes of each year’s bound volumes were reviewed, and computer searches were conducted. Included in the review were research reports, research briefs, and methodology articles.

Results Seventy-nine papers were found that met basic criteria for inclusion. The number of relevant publications increased each decade, with a sizable increase in numbers since 1990, and may be related to the social, political, and economic climate of each decade. The research questions asked and the methods used became more complex over time.

Conclusions Nursing Research has made a significant contribution in disseminating the body of tested knowledge related to the health disparities experienced by vulnerable populations and the methodologies associated with vulnerable populations research. Areas for future research are community-based studies, intervention studies that provide tangible resources, and methodologic approaches that involve participants in the research process.

Jacquelyn H. Flaskerud, PhD, FAAN, Janna Lesser, PhD, RN, Nancy Anderson, PhD, FAAN, and Deborah Koniak-Griffin, EdD, FAAN, are faculty members at UCLA School of Nursing.

Elizabeth Dixon, MSN, MPH, Francisco Conde, PhD(c), RN, Sue Kim, PhD, RN, Aaron Strehlow, PhD, RN, and Dorothy Tullmann, PhD(c), RN, were predoctoral fellows in Vulnerable Populations Research Group at the UCLA School of Nursing at the time of writing.

Inese Verzemnieks, PhD, RN, is a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA School of Nursing.

Editor’s Note:

This article was accepted for the 50th Anniversary Issue of Nursing Research and represents our continuing celebration of our 50th Anniversary in 2002.

Accepted for publication November 1, 2001.

This effort was supported in part by grants from NIH/NINR: Nursing Research on Vulnerable Populations #T32 NR07077, and the Center for Vulnerable Populations Research, P30 NR05041.

Corresponding author: Jacquelyn H. Flaskerud, PhD, FAAN, UCLA School of Nursing, Factor Building, 3-266, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1702 (e-mail:

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.