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Why Is Diversity in Nursing So Important?

The U.S. is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before. By 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, fewer than 50 percent of children in the U.S. will be non-Hispanic white.

People often think of diversity as differences in race and ethnicity. But diversity also applies to gender, sexual orientation, language, religious and political beliefs, disability and education, to name a few. Diversity is an important consideration for any workplace. In nursing, diversity relates directly to quality of care.

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can help nurses develop the skills and knowledge they need to deal with diversity in healthcare. Lamar University offers an online MSN in Nursing Administration program that prepares nurses for leadership roles in promoting quality care for a diverse society.

What Does Diversity in Nursing Mean?

Florence Nightingale saw high-quality care as a basic human right. Her first priority was her patients. Patients continue to be a nurse’s top priority. The nursing Code of Ethics makes this commitment clear.

Patient-centered care is one of six “Aims for Improvement” in an Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) report on improving the delivery of healthcare. Equitable care is also on the list. The IOM defines patient-centered and equitable care as follows:

Patient-centered care – Providing respectful and responsive care, ensuring patient values guide clinical decisions.

Equitable care – Ensuring that the quality of care does not vary based on gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or geographic location.

These goals speak to the need for diversity in the nursing workforce. As Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN, wrote in Chasing Diversity in Nursing, “Diversity in healthcare providers is generally accepted as a precursor for understanding our patient population and providing optimal care and services for the diverse composition of Americans.”

How Diverse Is the Nursing Workforce?

Florence Nightingale and her team made history as the first female nurses to care for soldiers in the Crimean War. As of 2016, women made up about 90 percent of registered nurses (RNs). Increasing gender diversity is just one way to create a more diverse nursing workforce.

An article in Minority Nurse points out, “…no one nurse can relate to every cultural background, speak every language, or identify with every gender identity or sexual orientation.” This is why efforts to increase diversity in hiring are so important to patient care.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the RN population is over 80 percent white/Caucasian. Clearly, diversity is a concern in nursing schools. Based on enrolled students from 2007–2016:

  • Students from minority backgrounds made up about 30 percent of students in both bachelor’s and graduate programs.
  • Men made up about 12 percent of bachelor’s and practice-focused doctoral programs, slightly less in master’s programs.

The AACN recognizes the need to attract a more diverse student population. Building a diverse nursing workforce will better meet the needs of a diverse patient population.

How Can a Diverse Nursing Workforce Help Patients?

Language diversity is one way to understand the importance of a diverse nursing workforce. As of 2016, nearly 22 percent of the nation’s population age 5 and older speaks a language other than English at home. This includes at least 350 different languages. Take Dallas, for example, where at least 156 languages are spoken in the home, including Telugu.

Looking at the data, it is easy to see how language barriers can impact health outcomes. Medical interpreters can bridge these barriers. However, The Joint Commission reports that patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) have a greater risk for the following:

  • Longer hospital stays when medical interpreters were not used at critical times
  • Line and surgical infections, falls and pressure ulcers
  • Surgical delays
  • Re-admissions

Healthcare organizations that focus on hiring nurses who speak the languages of their patient population can improve health outcomes.

How Can Earning an MSN in Nursing Administration Help?

Achieving higher levels of education is a longstanding goal of the nursing profession. This includes advancing from undergraduate degrees to graduate degrees.

Earning an MSN helps nurses advance their clinical skills. Examples include translating research findings to nursing practice. MSN coursework also helps nurses develop advanced leadership skills to promote diversity and inclusion.

Cultural competency is an important component. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality defines culturally competent care as “care that respects diversity in the patient population and cultural factors that can affect health and health care, such as language, communication styles, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.”

Coursework in advanced nursing issues can help nurse leaders build a better understanding of these cultural factors.

Diversity is part of every nurse-patient encounter. A more diverse nursing workforce can promote the trusting relationships that lead to better health outcomes and patient satisfaction.

In an interview for, Anabell Castro Thompson, nurse practitioner and former president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, summarized why diversity matters: “In order to be it, you have to see it. We need more diverse academic role models and nurse leaders who resemble the communities they are serving.”

Learn more about Lamar University’s online MSN in Nursing Administration program.


U.S. Census Bureau: Demographic Turning Points for the United States: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060

NCBI: Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses Chasing Diversity in Nursing Florence Nightingale

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Women in the Labor Force: A Databook

Minority Nurse: The Importance of Diversity in Nursing: Breaking Down Stereotypes and Inclusivity Barriers

American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Enhancing Diversity in the Workforce

United States Census Bureau: New American Community Survey Statistics for Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Available for States and Local Areas

United States Census Bureau: Census Bureau Reports at Least 350 Languages Spoken in U.S. Homes

The Joint Commission: Overcoming the Challenges of Providing Care to LEP Patients

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Improving Cultural Competence to Reduce Health Disparities for Priority Populations Discover Why Diversity in Nursing Matters

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