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These Are The Reasons It May Be Difficult To Increase Diversity In The Nursing Workforce

Statistics show the United States is quickly becoming a place where the minority is the majority. According to the U.S. Census Bureau there were more than 20 million children under 5 years old in the country in 2014, and over half of those were minorities. Children identified as white with Hispanic origin made up 22% of the 20 million children under 5 years old, while African American children came in second at 15%. With the rise of immigrants and interracial marriages, projections show more than half of the nation’s children will be part of a minority group come 2020. The minority population is expected to rise 56% by the year 2060, in comparison to a rise of 38% in 2014. 

A rise in the minority population calls for greater diversity in jobs across the board, especially healthcare.

We are currently seeing a diversity shortage in healthcare, especially in nursing, with a disproportionate number of nurses identifying as caucasian. There are approximately 3 million nurses in the U.S., and under 25% of them are ethnically diverse. According to a 2016 report from the National Academy of Medicine, about 13% of advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), nurses with a post-graduate degree, are ethnic minorities.

So how do we increase the number of ethnically diverse nurses?

Having diversity in medical staff is important to providing adequate care because there may be cultural differences or language barriers to break through. Fortunately, experts anticipate that moving forward we will see an increase in the number of job openings for nurses, as demand grows with Baby Boomers reaching retirement age - the age where more medical care is necessary. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects over 1 million job openings for registered nurses over the next 5 years. 

Educational institutions are funneling time and money into attracting more minority nursing students, and there has been growth in the number of minority students enrolled. The numbers are up 32% for enrollment in Bachelor degree nursing programs, and the number of minority students in Doctorate degree nursing programs rose from 19% to 31% over the past 10 years. While this is great news, we must also look at why some minorities are still NOT getting accepted.

With the dramatic growth of nursing as a profession, some schools are struggling to keep up with the pace and are unable to accommodate all applicants. During the 2014-2015 school year, 265,000 people applied for acceptance into nursing school. Out of those 265, 000 people, only 45% were accepted.

Of course, there are many reasons why someone may not be accepted to a school, but it's not a stretch to say that many of the applicants were qualified. According to a 2015 survey of nursing schools by the AACN, the reason fewer than half of applicants were accepted was because of a lack of clinical teaching sites and qualified faculty, limited class space and budget cuts. 

In terms of acceptance commitees, this lack of resources translates into school officials turning to more traditional means of new student acceptance, such as GPA. These traditional methods of acceptance may not be sensitive towards cultural or ethnic diversity, thus causing many qualified minority applicants to be rejected.

In order to obtain a larger picture of a potential applicant, many schools now take a more holistic approach to student acceptance. They take into account GPA, test scores, and life experience, instead of solely GPA and test scores.

However, many schools do deserve credit for prioritizing a goal of attracting a more diverse staff. Minority students may find it hard to relate to Caucasian faculty, simply because there are nuances to being a minority student that a different race might not identify with. Additionally, providing mentors who come from a similar ethnic or cultural background may help retain students in nursing school when met with difficult scenarios like juggling family, school, and another job.

While the medical system may have a long way to go in terms of diversity, all in all, it seems as though the healthcare system is working towards creating an environment more accessible and attractive to minority nurses.

Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.