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Women, particularly European American women, almost exclusively functioned as the only nurses into the 20th century. This nurse was typically lower to middle class and unmarried, but she was becoming educated. After the early 1900s, nursing became a more accepted occupation, and more women became nurses. So what's the problem with this model and how it translates to today's nursing workforce?
The state of diversity in nursing today doesn't reflect the diverse makeup of our patients. Our nation has many variants in the composition of our population. We're White, 65%; Hispanic, 16%; Black, 12%; Asian, 5%; and American Indian and other ethnicities, about 2%. However, the groups that make up today's nursing workforce are about 78% White, 7% Black, 6% Hispanic, 5% Asian, and 3% other ethnicities.1 The number of female nurses also overwhelmingly dominates the number of male nurses at about 10 to 1. The profile of the typical nurse (White woman) has been slow to change.
In the last two decades, strides have been made to recruit men into the nursing workforce. Due in large part to military service, men have been coming to nursing in larger numbers, increasing their percentages from 5.9% to 9.8% between 2000 and 2008.1 But particular obstacles for men in nursing still exist. Black nursing school graduates have also increased from 4.9% to 7.3%,1 but nursing hasn't kept pace with the nation's general increase in employment opportunities for Black Americans.
To increase our cultural diversity, we not only need to encourage diversity in our nursing student population, but we also need to create an accepting environment for our coworkers. Studies have shown that even when minority nurses enter the workforce, they have a higher than normal rate of leaving nursing in the first few years of practice. Altruistic motivations for career choices aside, it's easier to recruit workers into a profession that rewards its members for their hard work, education, and performance. An environment of respect, inclusion, and acceptance is a key component in establishing and maintaining a diverse workforce.
And diversity isn't just about ethnicity; it also encompasses sexual orientation and individuals with disabilities. Due to the active nature of direct care nursing, physically challenged individuals may not have considered a career in nursing, but as adaptive equipment becomes more functional and opportunities other than direct care nursing develop, perhaps the nursing workforce will become even more diverse.
Collegiality, cooperation, and innovative ideas from different people add to our wealth of information and experience, but, more important, a diverse environment of care will translate into more open acceptance of diverse patient populations.
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The registered nurse population: findings from the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses. http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/healthworkforce/rnsurveys/rnsurveyfinal.pdf. [Context Link]
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