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Diversity in Nursing: Why Is It Important? 

By 2050, less than 50 percent of Americans will identify as white and non-Hispanic. Industries, like nursing, must continue to evolve to become more racially and ethnically diverse. Diversity in nursing not only reflects changing national demographics — it also enhances the effectiveness of nursing teams. Read on to learn more about the importance of diversity in nursing, its impact on patient care, and how healthcare organizations can promote culturally inclusive environments.

What is Diversity?

Diversity can be defined as an accumulation of differing perspectives and experiences – how people perceive the world, approach problem-solving, and more. It’s all the tools that are unique to an individual’s upbringing and conditions, allowing them to enhance their “excellence and innovation.”

In general, diversity refers to a tapestry of identities, perspectives, and backgrounds affecting how people experience their lives. These may include:

  • Racial identity
  • Ethnic identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Range of ability (e.g., neurodivergence, physical)
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Language proficiencies
  • Education level
  • Work experience
  • Marital/familial status
  • Geographical location
  • And more

Benefits of Diversity in Nursing

Diversity in nursing unites different points of view and competencies — and has a positive impact on patient outcomes. Cultural diversity in healthcare, for example, equips multitalented teams to deliver care across a spectrum of demographics, life stages, and various populations, enhancing the effectiveness of patient-centered care.

In addition to more diverse teams, increased cultural competence among healthcare professionals is also recommended. The American Association of Colleges of Nurses (AACN) recommends nurses become actively aware of different cultures so they can provide comprehensive, “high-quality care across settings.”

Below are some benefits of diversity in nursing:

Better Equipped Nursing Teams

National nursing organizations and other stakeholders agree a diverse nursing workforce is better equipped to serve diverse patient populations.

Research highlighted by the AACN found that nurses of underrepresented or disadvantaged populations are “more likely to advocate for services and programs in their communities.” When nurses reflect the populations they serve, they can enhance communication and build trust with patients from diverse backgrounds.

Another benefit to diversity in nursing is that diverse teams tend to outperform homogeneous groups. With varied lived experiences and thinking processes, diverse teams show better problem-solving skills and greater innovation.

Improved Cultural Competency

Nurses are responsible for providing the highest quality of patient-centered care. Their level of cultural competence becomes a driving force in being able to adequately connect with underrepresented and disadvantaged populations.

Cultural competency equips caregivers to affirm racial, linguistic, and cultural identities. Caregivers with increased cultural competence are more equipped to understand and address the cultural factors influencing a patient’s beliefs, attitudes toward care, and behaviors. 

In fact, experts contend that nurses must acquire “the necessary cultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes as part of their training and professional development to provide culturally competent care.”

More Positive Patient Outcomes

Patient care isn't one-size-fits-all. Diversity in nursing creates a broader community and improves communication between patients and nurses. By cultivating a deeper understanding of a patient’s life, nursing teams can effectively tailor care plans to meet individual needs.

As nurses collaborate, they also learn from each other, fostering teamwork and a deeper understanding of all patient populations. This adaptability leads to higher levels of patient satisfaction, trust, and adherence to treatment plans. In addition to better health outcomes, research shows diverse nursing teams are linked to improved financial performance in the workplace, as well.

Greater Health Equity

Despite changing U.S. demographics, ethnic and racial representation in the healthcare workforce is not reflective of the rest of the population and remains disproportionate.

For example, Hispanic individuals represent 18.3% of the U.S. but only 7.4% of nurses. This lack of diversity poses significant challenges, as racial minorities are underrepresented, contributing to disparities in access to care and health outcomes. Language barriers worsen disparities, as it is common for many healthcare professionals to communicate in English only.

Advocating for diversity in nursing can help organizations address health disparities and promote greater equity. Employers can implement strategies that embrace diversity and inclusion by supporting the success of underrepresented and disadvantaged populations as they enter the nursing profession.

Cultivating a workforce that mirrors the demographics of U.S. communities will pave the way for a reality where every patient can access high-quality care.

SJC nursing students on campus

How to Promote Diversity in Nursing

Creating a diverse nursing workforce requires united efforts from educators, healthcare organizations, professional entities, and nurse leaders. Through prioritization and collaboration, these groups can increase access to opportunities and help dismantle structural barriers faced by racial and ethnic minorities.

Over the years, many industry experts have developed best practices for minority recruitment and retention. In the workplace, DEI principles (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) offer a framework for creating environments where all employees are valued, respected, and given equal opportunities for growth and advancement.

Here are several ways healthcare organizations can strengthen diversity in nursing recruitment and retention:

  • Ensure job descriptions are inclusive and consider all types of potential candidates
  • Utilize online platforms, like social media, to reach out to candidates in underrepresented or disadvantaged groups
  • Network with nursing schools and programs that focus on diversity, developing relationships to connect with a diverse pool of candidates
  • Create inclusive, welcoming work environments
  • Provide educational training to increase cultural competency
  • Examine internal policies to make sure equal advancement opportunities are available to all employees
  • Offer professional resources and support to encourage the development and success of minority nurses

As organizations implement strategies to promote diversity in nursing, nurses themselves also play an important role. Here’s some advice for nurses:

  • Engage in continuous learning to enhance your understanding of cultural competence, diversity, and inclusion
  • Be conscious of your own personal biases, question your assumptions
  • Personally tailor any feedback you give to another employee, so it’s based on the individual, not generalizations
  • Participate in diversity initiatives/mentor and support peers
  • Share personal experiences and insights
  • Practice inclusive communication, recognizing and respecting different backgrounds and points of view
  • Embrace and promote multilingual skills
  • Provide culturally sensitive care that considers the impact of your patient’s culture and life experiences

By embracing diversity in nursing and promoting inclusion, healthcare leaders and nurses can take proactive steps to bridge gaps in employment opportunities, access to care, and health outcomes.

Be a Change Agent in Nursing

The importance of diversity in nursing cannot be understated. Nurses work closely with patients from all walks of life and are often in the most frequent contact with them.

Achieving a nursing workforce that is more representative requires dedicated and ongoing efforts, but nurses can contribute to progress by embracing continuous learning and recognizing the importance of compassionate, culturally competent care.

"The National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine (2021) stated that diversification of the nursing field should be a priority to meet the needs of the ever-changing population of the United States. When the nursing staff resembles the population it serves, it is better prepared to meet its needs. Additionally, improving nursing diversity strengthens the trust and communication between patients and nurses. This may lead to increased care plan adherence."

-Patricia Charitable, DNP, MSN-Ed, RN

Program Director, Department of Nursing, Saint Joseph's College of Maine

At Saint Joseph’s College of Maine (SJC), we are deeply committed to serving our community and beyond. We understand that various factors shape our perspectives, such as religion, nationality, experience, culture, and status. Embracing and promoting justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion are fundamental expressions of our core values, mission, and identity.

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Raul Castillo, Hybrid ABSN student

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"[It’s] the impact I’m going to be able to have on people. Just being a Hispanic provider, that’s a lot. Growing up, I really didn’t see a lot of providers of my color, and I think that’s very impactful… seeing people that look like you is very important."

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