Nurses are at the forefront of patient outcomes, and experts say a workforce that better reflects the population it serves can help reduce healthcare disparities.
In Indiana, the percentages of nursing school graduates who are Black or Hispanic are lower than in the general population.
Associate Provost for Social Mission and Academic Excellence at Chamberlain University Dr. Kenya Beard has studied the issue of improving diversity in the nursing profession.
“Diversity among health professionals is associated with improved access to care, and the two overarching issues is access and quality,” said Beard. “So, greater patient choice and satisfaction when we have a diverse workforce; it’s better patient-clinician communication.”
Beard noted that diversity is multi-dimensional, and includes race, ethnicity, socio-economic factors and gender. For example, men represent only 12% of nurses.
Beard said improving diversity in the profession starts with a more inclusive learning environment. She explained that when students sees themselves represented among the faculty, they realize a nursing degree is something they can achieve as well.
Beard explained that unconscious attitudes among medical professionals can impact patient outcomes.
For example, because of their own life experience, a nurse might assume incorrectly that a patient has the resources to drive to a pharmacy and purchase a medication when they leave a hospital.
“When you bring people into a learning environment that have different experiences,” said Beard, “not just based on race but based on socioeconomic factors as well, these different experiences create a rich, robust dialogue that helps everyone understand how these social determinants of health impact patient outcomes.”
Beard added that with culturally responsive teaching, nursing educators strengthen students’ ability to recognize and respond in an inclusive way to diverse perspectives.
“When these students graduate,” said Beard, “they are better positioned to have a conversation with patients and their colleagues in a way that shows cultural humility and a greater degree of understanding the difficulties of navigating healthcare and achieving your best level of health.”
Chamberlain University, which has an Indianapolis campus, has what’s called a Social Determinants of Learning model.
Beard said it addresses disparities by focusing on barriers to student success – including economic, housing and transportation insecurity, and psychosocial health.