Healthcare disparities in America are stark and have been for decades. According to a 2020 CAP report, nearly 14% of African Americans and 10% of Hispanics had poor health compared to a little over 8% of non-Hispanic whites.
80% of African American women are overweight, compared to about 65% of non-Hispanic whites. Nearly 13% of African American children suffer from asthma compared to 7.7% of Caucasian children.
Mental health doesn’t fare any better. In 2018, only 8.7% of African American adults and 8.8% of Hispanics sought and received mental health treatment compared to nearly 19% of non-Hispanic whites.
As you embark on your nursing career, these are some of the issues you will have to contend with.
The US is more diverse than ever. Today, communities are composed of people from all backgrounds, and as a nurse practitioner, you are duty-bound to provide care to all regardless of who they are and where they come from.
As you begin your nursing training, you may be wondering which certification best places you to work with diverse populations. When considering AGCNP vs. FNP, it is important to know the difference between the two so that you can choose the course that best places you in your preferred area of nursing.
Both of these courses from Texas Woman’s University provide the skills that you need to be a primary care nurse practitioner. You learn how to diagnose and help manage acute illness, obtain patient histories, do oral exams, order and interpret medical tests, help with transition care, develop treatment plans, and educate both patients and caregivers.
The scope of the patients you treat varies, but only a little. An AGCNP is licensed to treat adolescents and adults of all ages, while an FNP can work with patients of any age.
Because of the healthcare disparities and a host of other issues that exist in America today, both types of nurses have a bright career outlook.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for nurse practitioners is expected to grow by 40% in the coming ten years. Those who get the right training now have a good chance of finding rewarding and well-paying jobs.
Even as you contemplate which of these courses is best for you, it is a good idea to understand the role of the nurse in promoting health and wellness in diverse populations.
Not only will it make the topics you encounter in your course a little easier to understand, but it can also set you on a path to deciding where you think your services are most needed.
This article looks at the meaning of diversity in healthcare for nursing practitioners and how they can ensure that those within their communities are served equitably.
What is diversity in healthcare?
The simplest definition is healthcare for all, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic background, culture, religion and any other disparities that may see one group of the population favored over another.
The above statistics are proof that healthcare isn’t as diverse as it should be in America. People of color are underrepresented compared to Caucasians.
A huge section of the population is underserved because of their economic status, race, gender, or because they are immigrants who are struggling to make their way.
For healthcare to be diverse, it has to be available to everyone. Nurse practitioners are especially well-placed to observe disparities in healthcare delivery. They are present in most of the treatment process, right from the time when someone walks into the ER until they leave. Nurse practitioners’ presence is also felt in the wards because they are the professionals who spend the most time with patients.
As a nurse, you have better access to your patients than other healthcare practitioners. You can talk to them at length and find out what challenges they experience when trying to access healthcare. You can also talk to them about their perceptions of how healthcare is delivered within their communities and what obstacles exist.
The information you gather from conversations with patients allows you to become a participant in the discussion about diversity in healthcare. You have unique insights that other healthcare professionals may not be aware of.
Why do we need diversity in healthcare?
The government, scholars, healthcare experts and others have, in past decades, dedicated a lot of time and money to make sure that healthcare in America is available to all. There are several reasons why it is important to ensure healthcare diversity in any community.
- A lack of diversity leads to disparities in healthcare
For a society to be truly balanced in terms of healthcare, every member should have equal access to treatment.
They should be able to buy as much health insurance as they need, have access to doctors and nurses, and be able to get the medications they require.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. That’s why we see more Blacks and Hispanics with chronic illnesses, mental health issues and lifestyle problems.
Countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany and Spain offer universal healthcare for all. It doesn’t matter where someone is from, their gender or their economic status. They can walk into any hospital at any time and get free services for both minor and chronic ailments.
Over the years, the US has tried to address the reasons why healthcare isn’t available to all, but disparities seem to get more entrenched.
In many communities, it isn’t unusual to find healthcare institutions for different classes of people. Some hospitals are mostly attended by Caucasians but are too expensive for the rest of the community. Cheaper institutions are reserved for Hispanics, Blacks and other minorities.
As long as these disparities exist, communities remain consciously aware of bias. If everyone can access the healthcare they need, communities are healthier and the overall healthcare bill is smaller for the government.
- There is better patient satisfaction
As we have moved toward patient-centered care, satisfaction has become ever more important.
It matters what the patient thinks about the treatment they get. If a patient thinks that they are getting the right treatment for their illness without any bias, they will be in a positive frame of mind and are likely to recover more quickly.
- A healthier overall population
If everyone has access to the healthcare they need, they will be healthy most of the time. Even as they grow older, they will experience fewer health problems.
Looking at the disparities in healthcare between different groups in America, it is no wonder that mortality rates are higher in minorities.
A healthy population makes for higher productivity because people can work most of the time.
- Diversity increases engagement
If everyone in the community feels included in healthcare delivery, they are more likely to participate in important discussions about the future.
They will provide feedback about issues that affect them, and policymakers can use the information they gather to improve healthcare even further.
- Diversity in healthcare leads to more innovation
According to a 2016 presidential memorandum, diverse groups are better at solving problems than homogenous ones. It works in the same way for healthcare. It is driven by innovation, and the more brains are at work, the more we can achieve.
Today, we can treat dozens of diseases that we could not 10 or 20 years ago, thanks to how much we have been able to innovate.
Everyone from every community has something to contribute. If we can make use of the talent pool that is present in every community in America, we can make big strides in healthcare.
What are the benefits of diversity for nurses?
Most discussions about diversity focus on its benefits to patients and the community, but there are important benefits for nurses that shouldn’t be overlooked:
- It gives them a sense of belonging
A nurse who has a diverse mindset can fit in wherever they go. They feel at home with their colleagues and their patients, and this allows them to broaden their skills and experience.
- Diversity encourages open communication
Hospitals that insist on a diverse hiring policy enjoy the benefits of open communication more than those that don’t. Everyone, including nurses, can contribute their opinion regardless of their background.
- Everyone feels appreciated
There are numerous workplaces in America where there are racial undertones, and some employees know that their work isn’t appreciated because of who they are. Institutions that insist on diversity create an atmosphere where everyone feels appreciated for their contribution.
- Nurses can solve problems faster
More brains are better than one. In a diverse workplace, nurses can call on other professionals to help them when they encounter problems as they treat patients. If, for example, a nurse has a hard time understanding a patient because of their accent, they can call another nurse who is from the same ethnicity to help.
- There is a strong sense of collaboration
Team medicine has become commonplace in America. Rather than have one doctor and one nurse attend to a patient, teams are put together that work on the overall health and wellbeing of the patient. In a diverse workplace, teams work with better cohesion and provide better care. They are comfortable working within teams, and they are good communicators.
- Nurses report better satisfaction overall
They are happier when they can attend to patients without having to think about things such as finances or racial background.
How can nurse practitioners promote health and wellness in diverse communities?
- Become more culturally competent
Cultural competence has become a catchphrase in the workplace. Today, we want to make everyone feel included.
It doesn’t matter where they are from, how much they earn, their gender, or whether they are immigrants – we must make everyone feel welcome, included, and taken care of.
In healthcare, this is more important than ever. America is more diverse than it has ever been, and the healthcare profession has realized that practitioners must be culturally aware.
A culturally competent nurse understands that they have a duty to all their patients. It doesn’t matter what their race is, where they come from, or whether or not they are educated – the nurse treats all patients equally.
- Talk to patients
The only way for a nurse to understand the obstacles that their patients face when they are accessing healthcare is to talk to them.
They can find out how they were treated in different sections of the hospital, whether or not they are happy with the care they received, and whether they would choose the same set of caregivers again.
Conversations with patients about whether they received prompt care when they needed it provides an insight into whether there is diversity and inclusion in healthcare provision.
Nurses are also uniquely placed to find out how the community they serve feels about the healthcare they receive through conversations with patients.
- Become better observers
Nurses were great champions for minorities during the COVID-19 pandemic. They highlighted how people were discriminated against based on race and socioeconomic status. Many hospitals were held to account and forced to develop more inclusive policies.
This was possible because nurses were observant, and they listened to their patients. They felt that they had a duty to their patients, and it didn’t matter who they were or where they were from.
By putting issues under the spotlight, nurses can act as agents of change.
- Get more education
The issues concerning healthcare in diverse populations are complex. The topic requires a good understanding of the factors that have led to the current situation and a balanced approach to solutions.
If you want to be the type of nurse who can contribute to discussions about healthcare provision among minorities, you need to have the right qualifications.
You must plan for higher education. You should gain a master’s degree early in your career so that you can rise to nurse management.
In a senior position, you will be a better advocate for your patients, and you can reach the right people with your issues and recommendations.
- Educate your colleagues
It would be nice to assume that all nurses value diversity, but the truth is that some know very little about it. You can play your part by helping your colleagues understand what it is and why it matters.
After you complete your degree and get employed, you may find yourself supervising groups of nurses. This is a good place to start.
For every nurse you supervise, take the time to talk to them so that they understand that diversity in healthcare is necessary for a happy and productive community. Let them know that it increases patient satisfaction and helps them heal faster.
- Participate in community and policy discussions
As a practicing nurse, you will be busy. You will work double shifts, at the end of which you’ll want to go home and rest.
Yet if you want to improve healthcare access in your community, you must take the time to participate in community meetings.
It makes you a trusted nurse who everyone can turn to, and you get a good understanding of the issues that those around you encounter when they need to access healthcare.
This is valuable information that you can take back to your superiors in the hospital or wherever you work. You can also approach other stakeholders who deal with community health.
- Be a patient advocate
Nurses are patient advocates. You swore an oath to practice your profession faithfully, and part of this is advocating for minorities who may be underrepresented in healthcare.
As you grow in your profession, you will become aware of those who need treatment but cannot get it or have a hard time accessing it for one reason or another.
It is your job to step up for such patients and do your best to ensure that they receive treatment.
Gather as much information as you can about those who are underrepresented and present it to the relevant authorities. Become a voice for your patients if you would like to see more healthcare diversity in your community.
- Serve as an example
You should serve as an example and be the kind of nurse who is prepared to give help wherever it is needed.
What progress have we made in diversity in nursing?
We have made some significant strides since the pandemic, when it became apparent that in many parts of the country, healthcare is delivered according to race, who one is, or how much one can afford to pay.
We now have 24% of registered nurses from racial minorities, compared to 22.4% in 2017. We also have more male nurses than we have had in the past.
Many healthcare institutions now understand the value of diversity and cultural sensitivity in providing healthcare. They train their staff on how to provide care to all without discrimination, and they provide regular retraining to ensure that everyone stays fresh.
We may have some distance to cover, but we have made impressive strides.