It's no secret that the nursing shortage has taken a toll on health care. But we sometimes overlook how another kind of shortage-that of minority nurses-affects patient care. Although African-Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians make up nearly 25% of the United States population, only 9% of nurses belong to these ethnic groups.
According to the Institute of Medicine, increasing the number of minority health care professionals is key to eliminating care disparities related to patient race and ethnicity. We have strong evidence that these professionals tend to work in minority and medically underserved communities, and adding more minority nurses would surely improve the quality of health care to these groups.
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We took a step in the right direction in 2003, when the Sullivan Commission on Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce was established under a grant to Duke University School of Medicine. Its mission is to create a national blueprint for achieving diversity among nurses, physicians, and dentists.
The commission found disturbing trends among minority nursing students. Of all nurses graduating in 2002, 5.5% were African-American, 1.5% were Hispanic, and 0.4% were American Indian. And these figures, discouraging as they are, don't reflect the number of students entering school who never graduate. In both 1997 and 2002, the number of graduating African-Americans was about half the number who'd enrolled, and the number of Hispanic graduates was only a fourth of those enrolled.
February 4th is National Black Nurses Day. I can't think of a better time to read the Sullivan report and contact a minority nursing organization to learn how you can support minorities in our profession. Don't forget the men, who account for almost half the population but only slightly more than 5% of nurses. (See below for how to contact various organizations.) To get involved, you might participate in a mentoring program to help minority nursing students graduate, support diversity initiatives in your workplace, or develop a program to attract minority youngsters to the health care professions.
The more closely our profession mirrors the public we serve, the better the care we can offer.
Cheryl L. Mee, RN, BC, CMSRN, MSN
SELECTED WEB SITES
American Assembly for Men in Nursing http://www.aamn.org
Missing persons: Minorities in the health professions. A report of the Sullivan Commission on Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce http://www.aacn.nche.edu/SullivanReport.pdf
National Alaska Native American Indian Nurses Association http://www.nanaina.com
National Association of Hispanic Nurses http://www.thehispanicnurses.org
National Black Nurses Association, Inc. http://www.nbna.org
Last accessed on January 10, 2005.