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Racial Disparities of Nursing Educators and Students
by ELISS CUCCHIARA Minority Nurse Writer
Due to the shortage of nurses in the workforce, many nursing schools are making an effort to increase their enrollment of students. Although there is an effort to increase the enrollment of nursing students, there are still racial disparities within the nursing student population—and this disparity correlates to the racial disparity of nursing educators.1 Without a diverse population of nursing educators, minority students are often made to feel invalidated in various situations, particularly in relating to professors culturally and receiving appropriate advice on cultural and ethnic relations in the workforce.
According to the National League for Nursing’s Annual Survey of Schools of Nursing, only 12% of the nursing student population in a baccalaureate program in 2012 was African American. That number dwindles for other minority groups: 8% were Asian or Pacific Islander; 1% were American Indian or Alaskan Native; 6% were Hispanic; and 6% were “other.” When you compare that to the fact that only 12.6% of nursing educators are minorities and only 6.2% are male, then you realize there is a dire need for diversity within nursing school institutions to correlate with the student population.2
In addition to the academic stressors that all nursing students have to face, minority nursing students have other challenges. Those challenges include having limited access to moral and emotional support, inadequate academic advising, low professional socialization, and little to no mentoring. Due to these factors, minority students have to overcome additional barriers that may impede on their academic success. Minority students also often feel the encumbering emotions that are attributed to isolation and discrimination. Isolation is often felt by minorities in professional settings, and it is heightened in various professional schools.3 As a result of limited minority nursing peers and nursing educators, minority nursing students often feel as though they’re not supported. Veronica, an African American woman who recently matriculated from a nursing school in the southeastern part of the United States, noted experiencing the disheartening emotion of racism when she was told by a nursing school admission counselor, “They don’t want your kind.” Discrimination of a minority nursing student is often felt in the classroom as well as in the clinical setting. Minority students feel the burden of being discriminated against by patients who don’t wish to work with the student due to the color of the student’s skin. Additionally, too often minority students feel as though they’re going through a hazing process in school in order to be placed on the same level as their white peers.3
Men continue to be highly underrepresented in the field of nursing, and their presence is even smaller in the classroom. Being a double minority comes with added hardships at times, and it may explain why many minority males do not choose to go into the field of nursing.
Manuel Romo is a third-semester nursing student at Northern Arizona University’s Tucson campus. He is the president of the Student Nursing Association and one of the few Hispanic male students. When asked about his perception of his role as a double minority in the nursing program, he verbalized, “As I have seen, nursing is predominately white females, which in turn is probably a reason why there are mostly Anglo female instructors. I believe that more needs to be done to attract instructors from various diverse backgrounds in order to attract more minority groups to enter the nursing field.”
The US Census Bureau predicts that minority ethnic groups will be the majority by the year 2043. With the change in our society will also come a change in the patient populations; they, too, will be predominately minority ethnic groups. The nursing profession will need to be able to be culturally sensitive and diverse in order to provide adequate clinical care. The fundamental change of the nursing profession starts at the level of the nursing students, and it’s imperative that nursing schools acknowledge this and begin to welcome an environment that represents diversity in its faculty. Currently, the National Sample Survey’s data notes that minority RNs are more likely than white RNs to obtain baccalaureate degrees and other terminal degrees in nursing.2 The reasoning for this isn’t fully understood beyond the recognition of knowing an advanced terminal degree brings about more career opportunities and the opportunity to have leadership and education roles—roles that seem to be absent in nursing institutions.
The methods for recruiting and retaining minority nurse educators aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Every school is different and unique in its own way, but the methods can’t wait too long. It’s about time that nursing institutions implement a reliable and realistic plan to promote diversity within their faculty and within their students. As nurses, we’re committed to being lifelong learners for the advancement of our patients and ourselves. Cultural competence is a key factor in relating to one another, and if it’s not cultivated in the classroom, then we as nurses are bound to face problems beyond.
Eliss Cucchiara is a second degree nursing student at Northern Arizona University. She will obtain her bachelor’s of science degree in nursing in the fall of 2014.