Smiling hospital medical staff holding stethoscopes

The Role of Nurses in Promoting Diversity & Inclusion in Healthcare

Nurses lead the charge in creating a healthcare system that delivers equitable and high-quality care to all patients.

Smiling hospital medical staff holding stethoscopes

In the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare, the promotion of diversity and inclusion has emerged as a crucial imperative, transcending mere buzzwords to become a fundamental facet of quality patient care. As the backbone of healthcare delivery, nurses occupy a unique and pivotal position in championing these values. This article explores the multifaceted significance of diversity and inclusion within healthcare settings and underscores the indispensable role that nurses play in driving this transformative change.

Diversity and inclusion in healthcare extend beyond checkboxes on demographic forms or token gestures; they are foundational principles that have far-reaching consequences for patient outcomes, the healthcare workforce, and society at large. Patients hail from diverse cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds, each with unique health beliefs, practices, and needs. Embracing diversity allows healthcare providers to deliver culturally competent care, fostering trust and patient satisfaction. The inclusion of diverse voices in healthcare teams promotes a broad spectrum of perspectives and experiences. This in turn enhances critical thinking, problem-solving, and innovation, ultimately leading to better patient care. Additionally, embracing diversity enables healthcare professionals to identify and address disparities effectively, working towards equitable healthcare outcomes for all. A diverse healthcare workforce reflects the populations it serves, making it more relatable and accessible to patients.

This article contends that nurses, through their unique position as caregivers, advocates, and educators, are pivotal in fostering diversity and inclusion within healthcare settings. By championing culturally sensitive care, advocating for diverse patient populations, and actively participating in policy changes, nurses can lead the charge in creating a healthcare system that not only reflects the diversity of our society but also delivers equitable and high-quality care to all patients. Through their dedication and empathy, nurses can catalyze a transformation that not only benefits patients but also strengthens the entire healthcare ecosystem.

The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in Healthcare

Diversity in healthcare encompasses a wide range of characteristics, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, socioeconomic status, and cultural backgrounds among both patients and healthcare professionals. It acknowledges that individuals bring unique experiences and perspectives to the healthcare setting based on these attributes. Inclusion, on the other hand, refers to creating an environment where all individuals, regardless of their diverse backgrounds, feel respected, valued, and included in decision-making processes, policies, and care. It is not merely about tolerating differences but actively seeking and welcoming diverse voices into healthcare spaces.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that patients tend to have higher satisfaction levels and trust in healthcare providers who share their cultural or ethnic backgrounds or who demonstrate cultural competence. Patients are more likely to engage in open and honest communication with providers who understand their cultural nuances. Healthcare disparities, often rooted in socioeconomic and racial factors, can lead to unequal health outcomes. Diverse healthcare teams are better equipped to identify and address these disparities, resulting in more equitable care. Moreover, inclusion and diversity foster better communication among healthcare professionals, leading to more effective care coordination, reduced medical errors, and improved patient safety.

According to Zippia’s data science team, there are over 16,721 doctors currently employed in the United States. Zippia estimates doctor demographics and statistics in the United States by using a database of 30 million profiles. Doctor estimates are verified against BLS, Census, and current job openings data for accuracy. Of all doctors in the U.S., 54.2% are women, while 45.8% are men. The most common ethnicity of doctors is White (62.2%), followed by Asian (18.6%), Hispanic or Latino (9.5%) and Black or African American (5.1%). In 2022, women earned 85% of what men earned. On the policy front, the latest Diversity Digest newsletter published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing highlights why nurses are well positioned to advocate for vulnerable populations, as well as offer testimony that supports diversity, equity, and inclusion. As champions of evidence-based research nurses can inform lawmakers as they develop legislation on critical topics such as gender-based care. Furthermore, a study published in JAMA Network Open found that women and racial or ethnic minority physicians were underrepresented in leadership roles in academic medicine, despite making up a growing proportion of the medical workforce. Women remain underrepresented in positions of leadership at US academic medical centers. In 2018, only 18% of permanent department chairs and 16% of deans were women. In fact, during the last 30 years, the number of women professors in medicine has only grown by 7% (to only 17% of the total).

Medical professionals consulting a patient chart

The Role of Nurses in Healthcare

How Can Nurses Promote Diversity and Inclusion?

Nurses are the linchpin of the healthcare system, serving as the frontline caregivers and advocates for patients across the continuum of care. They play a multifaceted role that goes beyond administering medications and providing treatments. Nurses are often the first point of contact for patients, offering not only clinical expertise but also emotional support, education, and compassion. Their responsibilities encompass assessing patient needs, developing care plans, monitoring vital signs, and collaborating with other healthcare professionals to ensure holistic patient care. Nurses are the glue that holds the healthcare system together, bridging the gap between patients and the complex world of healthcare.

Nurses interact with an incredibly diverse array of patient populations on a daily basis. Patients come from various backgrounds, each with unique health beliefs, preferences, and care needs. Nurses must navigate this rich tapestry of diversity with sensitivity and cultural competence. Whether caring for a pediatric patient, an elderly individual with chronic conditions, a pregnant mother, or someone from a different cultural background, nurses adapt their care approach to meet the specific needs of each patient.

Nurses hold a unique position in healthcare due to their direct and sustained interaction with patients. This proximity allows them to be at the forefront of fostering diversity and inclusion. They can actively promote these values by delivering culturally sensitive care, demonstrating respect for patients’ diverse backgrounds, and advocating for the needs and rights of all patients. Nurses can educate themselves and their colleagues about cultural competence, ensuring that healthcare practices are inclusive and respectful. Furthermore, nurses can serve as patient advocates, voicing concerns about disparities in care and championing policies that promote equity. In essence, nurses’ role as caregivers, educators, and patient advocates places them in a pivotal position to drive transformative change towards a more diverse and inclusive healthcare system that benefits all individuals, regardless of their background or identity.

Cultural Competence in Nursing

Cultural competence in nursing refers to the ability of nurses to provide effective and equitable care to patients from diverse cultural backgrounds. It involves understanding and respecting the values, beliefs, customs, and traditions of different cultural groups while integrating this knowledge into nursing practice. Cultural competence is highly relevant in nursing as it is essential for delivering patient-centered care that respects individual preferences, fosters trust, and improves health outcomes. It also plays a crucial role in reducing health disparities among various cultural and ethnic groups.

Understanding diverse cultural backgrounds, beliefs, and traditions is vital in nursing for several reasons. First, it helps nurses establish rapport and trust with patients by demonstrating respect for their values and cultural norms. This trust is essential for effective communication and adherence to treatment plans. Second, cultural competence allows nurses to assess patients more accurately by considering how cultural factors may influence health behaviors, perceptions of illness, and responses to pain and treatment. Lastly, it promotes patient satisfaction and engagement in care, contributing to better health outcomes and reduced healthcare disparities.

Here are three examples of how nurses can demonstrate cultural competence:

  1. Culturally Tailored Care Plans: Nurses can work with patients to develop care plans that consider cultural beliefs and preferences. For instance, they may inquire about dietary restrictions or preferences based on religious or cultural practices and adjust meal plans accordingly.
  2. Language and Communication: Cultural competence includes effective communication with patients who speak languages other than English. Nurses can use interpreter services or multilingual staff to ensure clear communication. Additionally, they should be aware of nonverbal cues and gestures that may differ across cultures to avoid misunderstandings.
  3. Respect for Traditions: Nurses should show respect for cultural traditions and rituals, such as allowing family members to be present during procedures or respecting preferences for modesty. In the case of end-of-life care, they can accommodate cultural practices surrounding death and bereavement, such as allowing time for specific rituals or prayers.

Addressing Disparities in Healthcare

Healthcare disparities refer to systematic and avoidable differences in health and healthcare access and outcomes that exist among various population groups. These disparities are often associated with factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status. For example, racial and ethnic minorities, particularly Black and Hispanic individuals, often experience higher rates of chronic diseases, maternal mortality, and infant mortality. Gender disparities can be observed in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions such as heart disease, with women frequently being underdiagnosed or undertreated. Socioeconomic status is a significant determinant of access to care, with lower-income individuals facing barriers such as lack of health insurance and limited access to preventive services. These disparities are complex and deeply ingrained in healthcare systems, making them a significant challenge to address.

Blurred nurse pointing a finger toward the camera

Nurses play a critical role in advocating for equitable healthcare access and outcomes. As front-line caregivers and patient advocates, they are well-positioned to identify disparities in care and work towards solutions. Nurses can advocate for patients by ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their background, receive culturally sensitive care and are treated with respect and dignity. They can also engage in policy advocacy, pushing for reforms that address the root causes of healthcare disparities, such as improved access to healthcare services, health education, and socioeconomic opportunities. Additionally, nurses can work within interdisciplinary teams to raise awareness of disparities and promote evidence-based practices that reduce inequities in healthcare.

There are several organizations that have made significant strides towards reducing healthcare disparities. For example, the Transcultural Nursing Society (TCNS), founded by nurse leaders, is dedicated to advancing culturally competent care. TCNS provides resources and education to nurses to help them better understand and address the unique needs of patients from diverse backgrounds, contributing to improved healthcare outcomes. The Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) is a nurse-led, community health program that provides home visiting services to low-income, first-time mothers. By offering support and education during pregnancy and early childhood, NFP has been shown to reduce health disparities and improve maternal and child health outcomes among vulnerable populations. Lastly, the Campaign for Action initiative led by AARP and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation mobilizes nurses across the United States to advocate for healthcare policy changes. Through their efforts, nurses have influenced state policies, expanded access to care, and improved healthcare equity for underserved populations.

Promoting Inclusivity in Nursing Education

Nursing education plays a pivotal role in fostering diversity and inclusion within the nursing profession and, by extension, the healthcare system as a whole. By instilling cultural competence, empathy, and an understanding of the importance of diversity from the outset, nursing schools can shape future nurses into advocates for equitable care. Education not only equips students with the necessary knowledge and skills but also influences their attitudes and perspectives, which can profoundly impact how they interact with patients and colleagues throughout their careers.

Nursing schools can actively seek diverse faculty members to create a more representative teaching body. Faculty diversity enriches the educational experience by providing diverse perspectives, role models, and mentors for students. Incorporating cultural competence training into nursing curricula is essential. This training should go beyond mere awareness of different cultures and focus on developing the skills to deliver culturally sensitive care. Nursing schools can implement targeted recruitment efforts to attract students from underrepresented backgrounds. Scholarships and financial aid programs can also help make nursing education more accessible to a diverse range of students.

The long-term impact of diversity in nursing brings many crucial benefits. Diverse nursing students bring unique perspectives, life experiences, and cultural insights to the profession. As they graduate and enter the workforce, they contribute to a more inclusive healthcare environment. For example, diverse nursing students are better equipped to provide culturally competent care and connect with patients from various backgrounds. This leads to improved patient outcomes, higher patient satisfaction, and enhanced trust in healthcare providers. As diverse nursing students progress in their careers, they have the potential to rise to leadership positions within healthcare organizations and academia. This diversity in leadership can drive institutional changes that prioritize inclusivity and equity in healthcare delivery and education.

The Challenges of Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in Healthcare

Challenge 1: Resistance to Change and Implicit Bias

Strategy and solution: Nurses can address resistance to change and implicit bias by fostering self-awareness and cultural competence. Implementing regular diversity and inclusion training programs and workshops can help nurses recognize their biases and provide strategies for mitigating them. Encouraging open dialogues and self-reflection can create a more inclusive environment where nurses can challenge their own preconceptions and biases.

Challenge 2: Lack of Cultural Competence

Strategy and solution: To overcome the lack of cultural competence, nurses should seek continuous education and training on diverse cultural practices and beliefs. Nursing schools and healthcare organizations can provide ongoing cultural competency training to equip nurses with the knowledge and skills needed to deliver culturally sensitive care. Additionally, nurses should actively engage with patients, ask questions about their cultural preferences, and listen attentively to their concerns to provide individualized care.

Challenge 3: Communication Barriers

Strategy and solution: Nurses often encounter communication barriers with patients who have limited English proficiency or speak different languages. To address this challenge, nurses can collaborate with interpreter services or utilize technology-based translation tools when needed. Healthcare organizations should ensure that language assistance services are readily available to all patients to facilitate effective communication. Additionally, nurses can learn basic phrases in commonly encountered languages to establish rapport and convey empathy.

Challenge 4: Inadequate Resources and Support

Strategy and solution: To tackle the issue of inadequate resources and support, nurses can advocate within their healthcare organizations for the allocation of resources to diversity and inclusion initiatives. Forming diversity and inclusion committees or task forces can help in identifying specific needs and opportunities for improvement. Additionally, nurses can seek external resources and partnerships with community organizations to enhance their ability to support diverse patient populations effectively.

Challenge 5: Balancing Competing Priorities

Strategy and solution: Nurses often face heavy workloads and multiple competing priorities. To manage this challenge, they can integrate diversity and inclusion practices into their daily routines. For example, nurses can incorporate brief cultural assessments into patient intake processes to better understand patient needs and preferences. By making these practices a routine part of their care delivery, nurses can promote diversity and inclusion without adding significant burdens to their workload.

Challenge 6: Resistance from Colleagues

Strategy and solution: When faced with resistance from colleagues, nurses can act as change agents by leading by example. They can engage in open and respectful conversations with colleagues to share their experiences and perspectives, emphasizing the positive impact of diversity and inclusion on patient care. Collaboration and teamwork can be encouraged through regular team meetings that focus on addressing diversity-related challenges and celebrating successes. Nurses can also seek support from nursing leadership to address and mitigate any instances of discrimination or bias within the workplace.

Smiling African-American medical professional against a teal backdrop

The Future of Diversity and Inclusion in Healthcare

The role of nurses in healthcare has been steadily evolving, expanding far beyond traditional patient care. Nurses now recognize that delivering high-quality care goes hand-in-hand with acknowledging and addressing the unique needs of a diverse patient population. By providing culturally sensitive care, fostering inclusivity, and advocating for equitable healthcare access, nurses contribute significantly to improved patient outcomes and satisfaction. Furthermore, nurses increasingly engage in research and policy advocacy to identify and mitigate healthcare disparities rooted in issues like race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status. Their evolving role as champions of diversity and inclusion is central to advancing healthcare equity.

Several trends and innovations are poised to further enhance nurses’ impact in promoting diversity and inclusion in healthcare. Telehealth and telemedicine, for example, have expanded access to care, especially for underserved populations. Nurses can leverage these technologies to reach patients in remote or underserved areas, providing culturally competent care from a distance. Moreover, technology can facilitate language translation services, making communication more accessible for patients with language barriers. Interdisciplinary collaboration is another trend that can bolster the impact of nurses. Nurses working closely with social workers, community health workers, and mental health professionals can address the multifaceted needs of patients from diverse backgrounds more effectively. Additionally, nursing education is evolving to include more comprehensive diversity and inclusion training, ensuring that future nurses are well-prepared to navigate the complexities of caring for diverse populations.

Join us in shaping the future of healthcare

In this article, we have explored the critical role of nurses in driving diversity and inclusion in healthcare. Nurses serve as linchpins of the healthcare system, bridging the gap between patients and providers. Their daily interactions with diverse patient populations position them as advocates, educators, and change agents. They play a pivotal role in delivering culturally sensitive care, addressing disparities, and advocating for equitable access to healthcare. Moreover, nurses contribute to shaping healthcare policies and practices that prioritize diversity and inclusion, ultimately improving patient outcomes and satisfaction.

As we look to the future of healthcare, it is imperative that we continue to recognize and harness the power of nurses in promoting diversity and inclusion. By supporting nursing education, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, and championing diverse leadership, we can create a healthcare system that reflects the rich tapestry of our society and delivers equitable care to all. Let us not only acknowledge the indispensable role of nurses in this endeavor but also actively support and empower them to drive positive change in the healthcare landscape.

At Eagle Gate College, our priority is to provide top-quality nursing education and practice. Learn how to become a registered nurse and explore our BSN program and  RN to BSN program, programs that offer comprehensive training focused on patient-centered care and healthcare leadership.