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How Diversity in Nursing Supports Patient Health

Written by: North Carolina Central University   •  Nov 13, 2023

A diverse team of nurses and doctors standing outside a medical facility.

How Diversity in Nursing Supports Patient Health

In recent years, the United States has become increasingly diverse. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s diversity index data, in 2020, there was a 61.1% chance that two people selected at random would be from different ethnic or racial groups. In 2010, there was a 54.9% chance.

With a growing number of people across the country from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, diversity in nursing has become a topic of significant interest in health care. Nursing isn’t just about the clinical elements of care; it’s also about building trust and forming relationships with patients. When members of a nursing staff reflect the community they serve, it can lead to more trust and better communication between the nurses and their patients.

Increased diversity in nursing won’t be achieved overnight. It requires a commitment from health care professionals to learn more about delivering culturally competent care in addition to their formal nursing education and training.

What Is Diversity in Nursing?

Diversity in nursing refers to having a nursing staff that includes people from different backgrounds. This goes beyond the nurses’ race. Although a racially diverse nursing workforce is important, diversity in nurses’ age, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background is also important.

The main objective of prioritizing a diverse nursing staff is that the staff represent the community they serve. For example, the first Black nurses in history not only made history but also gave an entire population the opportunity to be cared for by professionals from their community.

An early pioneer of diversity in nursing was Mary Eliza Mahoney, who was educated as a nurse in Boston in the 1870s and became one of the first Black nurses in the U.S. Mahoney is celebrated today for her efforts to promote health equity and better access to health care services for women and African Americans.

Why Is Diversity in Nursing Important?

By many measures of health equity across the country, people in certain communities are underserved due to language barriers, cultural misunderstandings, and/or bias they experience in their interactions with health care providers. By prioritizing diversity in nursing and ensuring members of their nursing staff hail from different backgrounds and are trained to deliver culturally competent care, health care organizations can alleviate some of these issues, including in the following ways:

  • Nurses have an easier time connecting with patients and earning their trust.
  • Nurses have a better understanding of how religious, ethnic, and racial differences influence a patient’s health care decisions and boundaries.
  • Underserved communities gain better access to health care services.
  • Facilities are less reliant on interpreters to facilitate communication between non-English speaking patients and their nurses.
  • Culturally and ethnically diverse nurse teams are better equipped to advocate on behalf of underrepresented patient populations.
  • Facilities experience overall improved health care outcomes and patient satisfaction.

Promoting Diversity in Nursing

So where does nursing diversity stand right now? How is the health care industry addressing this important and relevant issue?

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the racial and ethnic diversity of nursing students is on the rise. Their data shows that in 2013 approximately 71% of baccalaureate nursing students were white. In 2022, that figure decreased to 56%, with the rest of the student body being more racially and ethnically diverse, including African American students, Latino students, Asian students, and those who identify as two or more races. Of interest to those concerned about diversity in nursing at all levels, this is the trend for all nursing programs the AACN reported on, including bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs.

Another relevant factor in the quest to promote diversity in nursing is the number of organizations advocating for it. For example, the Federal Bureau of Health Workforce Hospital Association, the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing, the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice, and several other nursing organizations have pledged their commitment to diversity in nursing and are taking action.

To amplify the importance of this issue, these organizations are:

  • Generating awareness about the importance of diversity in nursing and its benefits
  • Creating educational opportunities that address racism and diversity in health care
  • Investing in research to learn more about diverse patient populations and how to better serve them
  • Advocating policies that promote diversity in nursing and culturally competent care
  • Conducting studies that demonstrate the value of a culturally and ethnically diverse nursing workforce

Expand Your Career Opportunities in Health Care

As more health care facilities heed the call for diversity in nursing, patients across the country will benefit through improved patient-nurse relationships and better health care outcomes.

Numerous resources are available that current and aspiring nurses can refer to on this topic. For example, the AACN’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion tool kit is an excellent resource that covers ways to improve the quality of nursing education and address health care inequities.

To become effective registered nurses (RNs) who can serve diverse populations, individuals need to complete a nursing program that teaches all the necessary clinical skills and competencies. Those exploring their educational options in nursing should learn more about the online RN to BSN program at North Carolina Central University.

Developed with the modern nurse in mind, this program covers the topics a skilled clinician needs to succeed, including:

  • Nursing informatics
  • Health assessment for RNs
  • Nursing research for RNs
  • Leadership and management for RNs
  • Community health for RNs

Accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), NC Central University’s online RN to BSN program is ideal for active RNs who are ready to take their nursing skill set and education to the next level, which can have a direct impact on their career opportunities. Graduates of the program can qualify for health care roles such as nursing manager, nursing shift supervisor, and nurse unit manager.

Learn more about how enrolling in the program can support your professional aspirations.

Recommended Readings

Nurse Manager Salary and Job Description

Oncology Nurse: Salary and How to Become One

Why Intercultural Competence in Nursing Matters


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Faculty Tool Kit

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Fact Sheet: Enhancing Diversity in the Nursing Workforce

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Race and Ethnicity of Students Nursing Programs

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cultural Competence in Health and Human Services

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, What Is Health Equity?

Frontiers in Psychology, “Methods of Increasing Cultural Competence in Nurses Working in Clinical Practice: A Scoping Review of Literature 2011-2021”

Health eCareers, “Diversity in Nursing: Why It’s Important for Patients and Providers”

National Women’s History Museum, Mary Eliza Mahoney

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Culturally Competent Nursing Care: A Cornerstone of Caring

U.S. Census Bureau, “Exploring the Racial and Ethnic Diversity of Various Age Groups”

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