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Op-ed: Diversity essential to nursing programs, profession

By Dr. Charlene Bell

Diversity in health care is critical. Nurses today need to have a deeper understanding of diversity and cultural awareness among their patients to meet the changing health care needs of the nation's diverse population. Diversity means people of different social and ethnic backgrounds, of different genders and sexual orientations. A diverse nursing labor force is of the utmost importance to provide a reduction in the health disparities that prevail in our nation's population. Disparities of health care delivery exist despite an increased awareness of the importance of culturally competent nursing care. The life experiences of our diverse nursing students can enrich the quality of the nursing profession. Stakeholders, such as all national nursing organizations, recognize this need as a priority for nursing throughout the entire country.

 While nursing programs strive to improve this issue with changes in recruitment and graduating diverse nursing classes, more steps must be taken to truly meet equal representation. Nursing programs should seek ways to attract, support and maintain nontraditional students. English as a second language (ESL) students can help meet the need for bilingual health care workers. We are obligated to create interventions, supportive programs and collegiate policies that increase and encourage a greater number of diverse students to correlate our diverse patient population.

One means of increasing the quality of cultural competence is the support of underrepresented students in nursing education. Examples of such support include financial support in the form of scholarships, and providing information regarding student loans. Tutoring services, offered face to face or online, tailored to meet specific needs of the student population, can help nursing students succeed. Training faculty to recognize potential and actual problems with students along with early interventions can make a difference between passing and failing a course.  Providing courses on time management and how to manage the stressors of nursing school should be included in the orientation of new students. Teaching stress reduction exercises such as controlled breathing, self-focusing and journaling can make a great difference coping with the responsibilities of nursing school. Nursing students today must learn to balance school, work, and oftentimes family obligations while seeking to become nurses. Assigning mentors, encouraging memberships in professional organizations and participation in nursing events are all ways to attract students and increase retention.

Efforts should be made to engage students in study groups, either those established by the program or informal peer study groups. Curriculum that is culturally competent, along with learning activities, can lead to enhanced care to those who are medically underserved or in an underrepresented community.

As the population of the U.S. continues to grow in diversity, so should the nursing profession. The goal of nursing education is to be able to teach and train nurses of the future to work with a growing diverse population of patients, and faculty are a key component in assisting diverse nursing students to achieve success in a nursing program. Nursing faculty have an opportunity to break down barriers that interfere with the goal of becoming nurses of high quality.

Charlene Bell, RN, Ph.D., is a faculty member in Trine University's RN-to-BSN program.