A 2020 report by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership states that diversity, equity, and inclusion are the cornerstones of human wellness. Diversity is essential in every industry but maybe more so in healthcare. It is how healthcare professionals like nurse leaders can ensure people of all backgrounds and beliefs get the same quality care.
By embracing diversity, those in healthcare can genuinely provide patient-based services. So why are nurse leaders the power behind diversity in health care, and what is the importance of diversity in healthcare?
Why Is Healthcare Diversity in Nursing So Important?
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that diversity is critical in nursing. Lack of it contributes to poorer health outcomes and higher mortality rates. There are a number of variables involved in this theory.
Improved Outcomes for a Diverse Population
First, some patients feel more comfortable when their healthcare team looks and sounds like them. Improving diversity in the nursing staff ensures every patient has someone to make them feel comfortable. This will strengthen patients’ trust in their nurses and healthcare team.
Diversity can be essential from a care perspective. Certain medical conditions are more prevalent in specific ethnicities. For example, African Americans are more prone to sickle cell anemia. Patients may respond better to someone they feel can understand them.
Diversity Means Better Problem-Solving
The more perspectives there are on nursing staff, the better the problem-solving. Diversity promotes creativity, and that means better patient care. In addition, it allows for new ideas regarding emergency procedures and nursing routines.
Higher Employee Morale Leads to Better Employee Retention
Diversity improves nursing performance. If you have one or two minorities on the staff, they potentially feel isolated. A diverse group of nurses builds a more robust work environment and promotes teamwork.
Diversity helps to eliminate the effects of systemic racism. A 2021 study for the Journal of Professional Nursing found that a minority nurse may experience racism on the job. Some quit their positions after having to work longer shifts than their colleagues and because they felt undervalued.
This type of bias can be subtle yet problematic. It may not be apparent to some that it exists while glaringly obvious to those who feel it.
What Problems Can a Lack of Diversity in Healthcare Cause?
A 2022 report published by the Urban Institute found that a lack of diversity in the healthcare workforce undermines patients’ trust. Race has always been a concern in healthcare. However, in some periods, even current ones, there have been reports of ignoring minority patients with health problems or treating them differently in some way.
Decades of this have led to a general mistrust of the healthcare system in this and many other countries. Today’s patient needs to be able to relate to their healthcare team. Seeing people like them as members of the staff helps build that trust.
Examples of Discrimination in Nursing – Racism, Ageism, and Gender Discrimination.
There are cases of patients being left without care because of their race. In some situations, the staff may profile the patient and determine they cannot pay their bill or are unworthy of help based on stereotypes.
Racism is a systemic issue proven by the health disparities among minorities. Given the socioeconomic problems that tend to affect minorities more, it is clear why those disparities exist. For example, in the US:
- African Americans have the highest rate of cancer deaths than any other group.
- Black women are twice as likely to lose their babies.
- African American children tend to have asthma at a rate of 7.7 percent higher than White children.
Evidence shows that certain workplace practices put people of color at a disadvantage. For example, a study published in Science shows that healthcare systems use an algorithm that underestimates the needs of minority patients.
Discrimination based on a person’s age can impact the level of care received in a healthcare setting. Additionally, ageism does not just impact patients. For example, nurses over the age of 50 face it. Staff and patients can make assumptions about their memory, cognitive health, and stamina. They can face discrimination in pay and assignments, too.
Gender discrimination occurs in nursing. Although the number of male nurses is growing, it is still a profession often associated with women. Men who enter this field can have their sexuality questioned or be given easier tasks because they are thought to have less technical nursing skills.
Othering and Racialization
Nurses can experience discrimination from patients. A patient of either gender may refuse care by a male nurse. Some white patients may require white nurses based simply on color. Minority patients may demand a nurse of their race, as well.
Language and Cultural Barriers
Language and culture can factor into nursing care, which is one reason diversity is so critical. Spanish-speaking patients may struggle with an English-speaking nurse. In certain cultures, it would be offensive to have a male nurse care for them. It would be uncomfortable for the nurse and the patient if forced on them.
The bottom line is that the more diversity there is in the nursing field, the fewer these issues arise.
Strategies Nurse Leaders Can Use to Promote Diversity
Diversity starts at the top. Nurse leaders must play a significant role in promoting diversity and ensuring that every patient feels represented. According to Kimberly Nerud Ph.D., RN, and Dean for American Sentinel College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Post University, “Nurse leaders are positioned to have meaningful opportunities to work together to advocate, strategize, and promote collaborative efforts to identify DEI standards to guide nursing practice. Nurse leaders need to be empowered to leverage their leadership to educate the members of their teams to identify bias and offer tools to promote change effectively.” Below are several strategies nurse leaders can implement to promote better diversity, equity, and inclusion in their healthcare environments.
Create a Welcoming, Inclusive Environment
Nurse leaders can promote inclusivity by providing all nurses with a welcoming work environment. Encourage everyone to share their views and give them a voice. At the same time, foster their individuality and uniqueness. Provide all nurses with the opportunity to work on randomized tasks and enhance their learning.
Recruit Diverse Applicants
When it comes to hiring, nurse leaders must be color, age, and gender blind. Hire based on skills and recruit diverse applicants.
When posting job openings, ensure the description of the role is thorough and accurate. Also, welcome all potential applicants to apply. This tells them upfront that inclusivity matters in your work environment.
In areas that lack diversity in the population, nurse leaders can reach out to underrepresented minority candidates on social media and job platforms. This will help bring in more of these groups of nurses. Make an effort to attend job fairs that promote diversity, too.
Having a multigenerational and diverse workforce brings strength to any healthcare setting. That strength is reflected in better patient care.
Learn to Recognize and Address Biases
Nurse leaders may face two types of biases in the work environment: conscious and unconscious. They may also handle biases between patients and staff and within the nurses on duty. It is critical that nurse leaders openly acknowledge that these exist, even in the most diverse workplaces. Nurse leaders must create a work culture that includes open dialogues, acceptance, and belonging that starts from within.
Be Good Role Models
One of the most essential steps nurse leaders can take is to lead by example. They must act as role models by promoting inclusivity and equality. They must avoid and discourage stereotyping of both patients and staff.
Being a nursing role model will go a long way in breaking down the barriers that tend to exist in healthcare settings. They must also point out zero-tolerance policies and follow them personally. Active modeling of the desired behaviors by leadership can help cultivate a fairer workplace that accepts patients and staff as equals.
Provide Diversity Training
Although many nursing programs will include diversity training, nurse leaders can reinforce it on the job. Diversity training will help nurses deliver care to all patients regardless of race, socioeconomic status, age, or gender.
Workforce diversity training enhances awareness and cultural sensitivity. It gives nurses a better understanding of the biases that might exist even if they do not recognize them. It also teaches them about social and cultural factors influencing patient behavior.
Through diversity training, nurses can learn the tricks of the trade that make others feel more comfortable and included. They will understand the importance of things such as:
- Making eye contact
- Communicating with staff and patients openly and clearly
- Active listening
- Asking for help when necessary
- Staying calm even when feeling discriminated against
Proper training is the cornerstone of efficient and effective nursing care. It helps nurses better understand their own unconscious biases that lead to insensitivity. Diversity training creates a more inclusive healthcare setting.
Give All People a Voice
Feedback is critical for nurses at all stages of their careers. Leaders provide it to help a nurse improve their skills. They also should request feedback from their staff to enhance policies, workflow, and administration.
You can open that door to inclusivity and diversity, too. Encourage everyone to be part of the discussion. Giving all people a voice will help root out potential equality issues that may be buried. It will also help the leader and other team members better understand another person’s perspective on patient care, job assignments, and staff needs. Different perspectives mean a better-functioning workplace.
Find Ways to Measure Health Equity
Health equity means the absence of disparities in health between race and social groups. Nurse leaders play an intricate role in promoting health equity. Advancements in healthcare technology make measuring health equity easier for nurse leaders.
Modern healthcare networks collect relevant data on the socioeconomic and demographics of the staff and patients. By leveraging this data, nurse leaders can understand what is working and what is not. They can review data for patient outcomes and staff assignments to ensure balance.
Reviews of data should be regular and scheduled. Nurse leaders might share this data with the nursing staff so they can see the positive or negative impact and adjust accordingly. They will better understand policy changes if there is data to support them. The use of data can help diversity practice in the workplace. It provides continuous learning opportunities.
The framework for developing a diverse workplace in healthcare focuses on three concepts:
- Inclusive leadership
- Cultural humility
- Authentic self
Nurse leaders can create diverse work environments by being good leaders, recognizing inequity, and dealing with their own biases.
Understanding ways to create diversity is a learned skill, just like anything else. While some diversity training is part of primary nurse education, leaders must take it further with specialized education.
If you think you are a leader, then Post University has advanced nursing degrees to help you develop your nursing leadership skillset. The dual degree MSN/MBA online program is offered online, allowing you to continue working as you study.
This program will help you learn to analyze your workplace structure and make changes that enhance inclusivity. You will also do research that will improve your leadership skills and learn to develop better training programs.
Post University also offers a nursing management degree through our Master of Science in Nursing – Management and Organizational Leadership specialization. This graduate-level online program can be completed in 24 months and will help you develop the leadership skills necessary to create a diverse nursing environment.
Once you complete a master’s degree program, you can apply for the Doctor of Nursing Practice, which includes four specializations:
- Educational Leadership
- Executive Leadership
- Professional Leadership
- Informatics Leadership
You pick the specialization that best aligns with your career goals. Each specialization is also offered online.
If you are striving to become a nurse leader, check out the Post University website. You can learn more and even apply online.
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