April 23, 1999

Population Diversity Requires More Minority Registered Nurses

Washington, D.C. — The American Nurses Foundation (ANF) has been awarded a $140,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan, to study diversity in the nursing workforce. The purpose of this project is to obtain more specific information on the more than 246 thousand minority nurses who make up about ten percent of the nation's approximately 2.65 million registered nurses and to project the future needs for, and potential contributions of, minority nurses based on the demographics of the minority nurse population. The primary investigator for the National Sample of Minority Nurses is Hattie Bessent, EdD, RN, FAAN, editor of ANF's Strategies for Recruitment, Retention, and Graduation of Minority Nurses in Colleges of Nursing (1997, American Nurses Publishing).

The U.S. health care workforce must become much more diverse if it is to succeed in delivering culturally competent care in the 21st century, according to the report of the Pew Health Professions Commission, released in December, "Into the Future: Educating Health Professionals for a New Century." ANF has taken heed, concurring that as America's population becomes more diverse, positive patient health outcomes will increasingly depend upon increasing the number of minority health care providers, including registered nurses (RNs).

The percentage of minority RNs in the nursing workforce increased only three percent from November 1980 (seven percent) to March 1996 (just under ten percent) according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (The Registered Nurse Population.) This percentage lags far behind that of minorities in the patient population —27.5 percent as of March 1996. These data consider minorities as Black (non-Hispanic), Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaskan Native.

Bessent notes that, "At the turn of the century, one in every four Americans will be Black, Hispanic, Middle-Eastern, or Asian." She says, "The need for well-educated nurses is great and employment opportunities are likely to be many." Bessent says, "There is a great need to increase the number of nurses from minority populations. Although nursing educational programs emphasize cultural sensitivity, the enrollment of individuals already socialized in the cultural beliefs and customs of a minority group will enrich the total nurse offering. Well-prepared minority nurses can offer leadership in nursing and in health care overall. There will be many opportunities for his leadership, and, by its exercise, minority nurses can make a vital impact on the economic of health care."

The National Sample of Minority Nurses will make projections for the type of diverse workforce that will be needed in the next millennium; provide the entire nursing community, educators, clinicians, and researchers information for their future work; and include variables that can be used in future sample surveys of the registered nurse population performed quadrennially by the Division of Nursing in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Bessent's study will help the U.S. better prepare to meet the needs of minority populations, who are disproportionately represented in the ranks of America's uninsured. Cultural and linguistic barriers also effectively isolate millions from the level of treatment afforded non-minority and English-speaking Americans. In the Pew report, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell noted, that early in the 21st century "ours will be a nation of minorities." As Mitchell asserts, "This is not just about race, and it's not about quotas. This is about a national health need for... health care providers who are best qualified to meet the needs of their patients and society."

Lack of cultural and linguistic competence among health care professionals and practitioners leads to suboptimal patient assessment and treatment, failure to effectively involve the patient's family in the plan of care, and failure to integrate traditional cultural modes of care that serve to promote healing and offer comfort. The rate of patient non-compliance with treatment plans is higher when cultural differences and dynamics have not been addressed in the provision of care. ANF will use the Kellogg grant to provide data projections for the minority registered nurse workforce that will be needed in coming years, as well as data on the characteristics and utilization patterns of minority nurses.

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