By Jane Gutierrez
When you think of a nurse, what’s the first image that comes to mind? Chances are, you think of a woman — and for good reason. The vast majority of professional nurses in the U.S. are white women. In fact, only about six percent of nurses are male and, Considering males make up approximately half of the population and minorities are 30 percent, there’s a major disparity in the profession.
That disparity is reflected in equal measure in nursing schools, both in the student population and faculty. Experts argue improving the diversity in nursing education will improve health care by creating a more culturally sensitive healthcare workforce with improved communication abilities, reduced biases and stereotypes and fewer inequities, as well as increasing the diversity of the nurse education faculty.
At a time when the healthcare system is faced with a nursing shortage caused at least partially by a shortage of nurse educators, some argue males and minorities represent an untapped resource for recruiting new educators. They believe that by creating new opportunities to attract traditionally underrepresented populations to the field, we can both solve the shortage and make a measurable improvement to our healthcare delivery system.
Why Diversity Is an Issue
While minorities have made great strides in other traditionally white-dominated fields and women have done the same in traditionally male fields, nursing is one area where diversity initiatives seem to have been ineffective.
In the case of men, much of the resistance to nursing as a profession comes from a cultural perception of nursing being a “female” profession. Men report while they enjoy the care giving aspects of the job, it’s difficult when others ask questions or make comments deriding their career choice. For example, male nurses report being asked why they didn’t choose to become doctors, with the implication that they did not earn adequate grades or were too lazy to become doctors. In addition, men report feeling left out of the profession, with most training and professional development materials referring to nurses as “she” and a female-centric approach to teaching and training.
In the case of minorities, including African-Americans and Latinos, studies attribute the disparity in the nursing profession largely to lower overall academic achievement in those groups. Given that admission to nursing school generally requires at least a moderate level of academic achievement — and earning a
degree in nursing education requires at least a bachelor’s degree and some experience — it’s no surprise that groups that aren’t as academically advanced are lacking in the nursing profession.
Fixing the Problem
Because improving diversity in the nursing profession is a key to solving the nurse shortage — and by extension, the nurse educator shortage — the healthcare field is looking for new ways to recruit, mentor and retain minority nurses, male nurses and educators.
One step is to recruit potential professionals earlier — in some cases, as early as high school. Throughout the country, in the field in exchange for high school credit, with the goal of encouraging them to maintain their academic performance and attend nursing school.
However, academic performance is only part of the equation. The cost of education is another barrier to many potential students, regardless of sex or ethnicity. The cost for a four-year BSN program can be over $100,000 in some cases, while a two-year program generally runs between $5,000 and $20,000. Factoring in the master’s and doctoral degrees required to become nurse educators, and the cost only goes up.
In response, many schools, as well as states and the federal government, have instituted financial assistance programs designed specifically for minorities and males. The Federal Nursing Workforce Diversity program allows minority students to borrow money for school, and have some or all of their loans repaid if they agree to work in specific, undeserved areas. For those who want to become nurse educators, the government’s Nurse Faculty Loan Program offers partial or full repayment of student loans for agreeing to teach for at least two years after graduation.
With the nursing shortage only expected to grow, thanks to increased access to healthcare, reaching out to minorities and males only makes sense. Not only will it solve a serious problem, it will ensure quality, effective health care for future generations.
About the Author: Jane Gutierrez is a nurse educator and a member of her employer’s diversity initiative committee. She visits with local high schools to encourage students to consider careers in health careSource: WideInfo