The nursing workforce has a long way to go when it comes to diversity, but a study in the March-April issue of the journal Nursing Outlooks suggests trends are at least headed in the right direction.
After comparing groups of nurses earning licensure in 2005, 2008, 2011, and 2015, researchers found an increase in gender as well as race/ethnicity over the 10-year study period. Specifically, the rate of men entering the nursing workforce grew significantly: from 8.8% in 2005 to 13.6% in 2015.
Ethnic/racial diversity increased, too, with the proportion of white (non-Hispanic) nurses entering the workforce declining from 78.9% in 2008 to 73.8% in 2015. According to researchers, the dip primarily reflects growth in the population of white-Hispanic nurses joining the ranks.
“The increase in the percentages of men and nurses of color indicates that the nursing workforce is moving in the direction recommended in the Institute of Medicine report,” said researcher Christine T. Kovner, RN, PhD, a professor of geriatric nursing at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing. “However, the findings are still below goals of the report and other recommendations.”
Making real progress toward a more diverse nursing workforce is going to take time. After all, the nursing workforce in the United States is a particularly huge one.
As Kelly Hancock DNP, RN, NE-BC, executive chief nursing officer of the Cleveland Clinic Health System and chief nursing officer of Cleveland Clinic Main Campus, pointed out last summer, In 2012, the nursing workforce was 2.9 million strong. Any impact the 184,000 new RNs who entered the workforce that year would have on the profession’s stats as a whole would be marginal.
In other words, we need many more years of people from diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds entering the profession to shift representation in a meaningful way.
As of 2014, 27% of employed RNs were from ethnic/racial minority groups, and 10% of employed RNs were male, according to US Census Bureau data quoted by Dr. Hancock. By 2044, she continued, people who are African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander will together make up the majority of the US population, while people who are non-Hispanic white are forecast to constitute less than half the population.
“In a healthcare age where quality is everything, diversity in nursing is extremely important,” Dr. Hancock observed. “Research has shown that when nurses understand the culture and history of a patient’s community, communication and trust are improved. Furthermore, patients feel more comfortable and confident in the care they are receiving when their caregiver can relate to them culturally or ethnically, thus, improving patient satisfaction.”
Dr. Hancock shared some tips for nurse leaders looking to enhance diversity in the nursing workforce:
“Aside from becoming more involved in local, regional, and national diversity efforts, there are many strategies and initiatives nurse leaders can pursue within their own organizations to grow and develop a more diverse nursing program,” Dr. Hancock advised. “And every action taken today is certain to contribute to a better tomorrow.”