The Importance of Diversity in Nursing

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Why is diversity in nursing important? Diversity in nursing empowers both patients and nurses. It serves to fight against healthcare disparities and fosters greater community engagement, better patient outcomes and more trusting relationships between providers and patients. Implementing a DEI policy and cultivating diversity in recruitment are important steps.

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A nursing degree is a solid choice if you’re looking for career flexibility. The nursing field is intrinsically diverse, offering many specialties, workplace settings, patient populations and patient care needs. However, diversity in nursing refers to much more than the flexibility of career choices.

Indeed, cultural diversity in nursing is critically important and beneficial for several reasons. Why is diversity in nursing important? How can individual nurses and healthcare organizations promote greater diversity?

Northeastern University seeks to foster diversity in its student population and education. Our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program provides students with a comprehensive nursing education that prepares them to promote diversity in their workplace and strive to meet the unique needs of diverse patient populations.

Let’s take a closer look at diversity in nursing, exploring why it’s important and how to promote it.

Understanding Cultural Diversity in Nursing

There are two main ways of examining diversity in the healthcare field. First, you can reflect upon the diversity of the nursing staff itself. Second, you can consider the diversity of the patients that nurses serve. Diversity among both populations is essential for a robust healthcare ecosystem to flourish.

But what does diversity mean, exactly? Cultural diversity in nursing — in both nurses and patients — means that within each population, there are people from all backgrounds and walks of life.

Diversity encompasses differences in classes, such as:

  • Race and ethnicity
  • Sex and sexual orientation
  • Language
  • National origin and immigration or refugee status
  • Gender identity
  • Family structure
  • Socioeconomic background
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Physical, functional and learning abilities
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A person’s background, personal attributes and characteristics, identity, heritage and accumulated experiences throughout their lifetime comprise their unique person. It’s why no two people are alike — and why no two people will experience the healthcare system in the exact same way.

In other words, a person’s unique identity and background can influence their healthcare decisions. It’s incumbent upon nurses to demonstrate respect for and appreciation of their patients’ needs when delivering care, patient education and treatment recommendations.

Why Is Diversity in Nursing Important?

There are many reasons why representation in healthcare is crucial for both nurses and patients. Diversity is also beneficial for health systems themselves. First, let’s look at the main benefits of diversity in healthcare for patients and nurses.

Improved Patient Outcomes

Patients who feel that their clinicians are out of touch with their experiences and background may be less likely to trust those providers — and trust in the clinician-patient relationship is absolutely vital.

Trust is necessary for fostering open communication. Patients who don’t feel validated by their nurses may be less likely to talk honestly about personal health information. They may also be less willing to follow treatment recommendations or continue seeking healthcare services.

Studies demonstrate that diversity in nursing contributes to improved patient outcomes and that diverse nursing teams provide a better quality of care than non-diverse teams.

Fights Healthcare Disparities

What are healthcare disparities? These refer to inequalities in healthcare, encompassing healthcare access, the potential to achieve optimal health and the burden of disease on groups of socially disadvantaged people.

Experts have noted that insufficient diversity in the nursing population is a significant cause of health disparities in the U.S. However, making strides toward increasing diversity among nurses and other clinicians is one way to combat healthcare disparities and save lives.

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Better Community Engagement

Nursing involves so much more than simply administering medications and changing wound dressings. Quality patient care requires building a strong rapport with your patients. Connecting with patients and fostering a trusting relationship contributes to better community engagement.

One study, for example, found that most non-Hispanic Black adults stated it was either “very important” or “somewhat or slightly important” to have access to a clinician who shared or at least understood their culture.

Without that crucial representation, patients throughout a community may be less likely to trust the clinicians available to them, adversely affecting health-seeking behaviors and treatment plan adherence.

How to Promote Diversity in Nursing

Now that you understand why diversity in nursing is vital, it’s time to look at how to promote diversity in nursing. There are many steps that both individual nurses and organizations can take.

Northeastern University ABSN student studying with text book

Implement a DEI Policy

A diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policy is an essential cornerstone of diversity in healthcare organizations. If your employer has not implemented a DEI statement, you and your fellow nurses can request that they do so.

Ideally, this type of statement does more than pay lip service to the importance of diversity. It should also establish protocols intended to prevent workplace discrimination and harassment. Organizations can be petitioned to implement cultural competence training for all employees.

Set an Example of Culturally Competent Nursing Leadership

No matter your official place in the hierarchy, you have the potential to be a nurse leader by setting a positive example for others to follow. Encourage open communication and critical thought about diversity, privilege and inequality. Go the extra mile to treat everyone with respect, dignity and fairness and advocate for unbiased patient care.

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Implement an Action-Focused Reporting Process

Even within organizations that are genuinely committed to fostering diversity, incidents of discrimination and harassment can still occur. It’s important to proactively establish a clear and effective reporting process, emphasizing that those who submit reports will not face any retaliatory actions.

Of course, the reporting process must be accompanied by fair and just workplace investigations — such as those conducted by a neutral and independent third party — and punitive actions when warranted.

Benefits of Recruiting Diverse Nurses

Cultural diversity in nursing isn’t only beneficial for nurses and patients; it’s also important for healthcare organizations and health systems. Here are a few reasons why.

Improved Recruitment and Retention Results

Unfortunately, discrimination and harassment are all too common in the healthcare field, as evidenced by the troubling results of an American Nurses Association (ANA) survey of nurses:

  • 63% say they have personally experienced an act of racism at work from peers, patients or managers/supervisors.
  • 57% say they have spoken up about racism at work, but more than half of those stated their actions did not lead to positive change (and some were retaliated against for doing so).
  • More than half say their well-being and career have been adversely affected by racism at work.

What does this mean for healthcare employers? It means it’s impossible to build a robust, thriving healthcare community that supports all stakeholders until discrimination and harassment in the workplace are adequately addressed.

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Promoting equity and diversity may improve the healthcare environment in several ways, such as by improving recruiting and retention efforts.

For example, by promoting diversity in the workforce, organizations widen the pool of potential candidates. By curbing discrimination, they encourage talented, diverse nurses to stay with that organization because they feel validated and valued.

Supports Financial Performance

While supporting employees should be a main priority for healthcare employers, there is a more material reason to focus on DEI efforts. More diverse healthcare organizations tend to report better financial performance.

Boosts Organizational Reputation

Finally, diversity in healthcare workplaces can improve the reputation of the healthcare employer. Discrimination and harassment lead to legal liability and the potential for reputational harm.

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Diversity in Nursing Begins with Education

Diversity in nursing schools is necessary to promote a more diverse nursing workforce. A diverse body of nursing students will naturally contribute to greater diversity in the workforce. Furthermore, students who examine cultural competence in nursing school are better prepared to approach the workplace with respect and professionalism.

At Northeastern University, our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program is committed to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion, driving change toward a brighter future that minimizes health disparities and improves collaboration.

Within the larger university, our undergraduate student body is comprised of:

  • 11.19% Hispanic
  • 18.29% Asian
  • 5.79% Black
  • 6.27% biracial
nursing student working on whiteboard

Northeastern Welcomes Diverse Applicants

Northeastern University is committed to promoting diversity in healthcare education. We strongly encourage diverse applicants to apply to our ABSN program and work toward earning a nursing degree in as few as 16 months by leveraging their past non-nursing college education.

With small class sizes and dedicated instructors, Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences is focused on graduating highly competent, practice-ready nursing candidates.

Contact our admissions counselors today to find out if our ABSN program is right for you.