Diversity is, and has always been, one of the greatest strengths of our extraordinary nation. For nursing, diversity brings with it broader insight, more compassionate care, cultural sensitivity, and a variety of other positives. However, historically, nursing has struggled to increase diversity in our workforce.
Why is that? In “Diversity Matters: Why Don’t We See It in the Registered Nurse Workforce?” Teri Murray, PhD, PHNA-BC, RN, FAAN states, “The lack of diversity in nursing education programs was and remains the major reason for the lack of diversity in the RN workforce.” Murray notes that while progress has been made, “there is still much work to be done if the RN workforce is to mirror the general population.”
And Murray is right, there is much work to be done in this area. The COVID-19 pandemic throws into stark clarity the fact that often health emergencies affect the vulnerable and underserved disproportionately at an increased rate.
Below, leaders at IACN take a moment to explain the challenges and efforts already underway to expand the diversity of the nursing workforce.
Challenges to Recruiting Diverse Students
Despite the enthusiasm of many administrators to recruit diverse students, a number of challenges make this difficult. Not having sufficient number of faculty from underrepresented groups makes recruiting difficult, as students from all backgrounds look for individuals on the faculty who look like them and have had similar social and cultural experiences.
“Depending on the potential student’s background, going to college may seem foreign, intimidating, or even not an option. Some do not understand the value of a college education,” said Dr. Pam Ferguson, Dean of Nursing at Methodist College.
College location is also a challenge to some nursing programs. Even if a program has ample space in the classroom, it is often difficult to recruit potential students to move away from home.
“Our program is located in a rural area of Southern Illinois. The area just isn’t culturally diverse,” said Dr. Richelle Rennegarbe, Professor of Nursing and Director of DNP Programs at McKendree University.
Still, yet another (significant) factor is the cost. Even well-intentioned colleges and universities are sometimes unable to provide diverse students with financial aid packages and scholarships that make higher education attainable.
So What’s Being Done?
For many IACN member institutions, the solution begins with the recruitment and admission process and then builds on that with support services. Dr. Terri Weaver, Dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing, said “Our program practices holistic admissions, and our urban health program works with students from under-represented groups and exposes high school students to nursing. We also appointed an Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion to recruit and establish programs and policies regarding recruitment and to aid in the success of under-represented groups.”
“Illinois State University’s Mennonite College of Nursing is proud to offer our PROUD program to students. PROUD provides financial support, academic support through study groups and tutoring sessions, peer support, mentorship, and professional development with the goal of helping the college’s diverse students succeed and increase diversity in the nursing workforce,” explains MCN Dean Judy Neubrander, EdD, FNP-BC.
Like the University of Illinois at Chicago, many IACN members attempt to make their programs as welcoming to diverse students as possible. Dr. Pam Brown, Founding Director of the Nursing Program at Illinois College stated that “IC has strong support for freshman and first generation students” and that “about 40% of the students seek and receive tutorial services.” McKendree University also attempts to help students financially, with Dr. Richelle Rennegarbe noting that “McKendree University doesn’t charge an admission fee in order to reduce the financial challenges.”
Dr. Joan Libner, Chair of the Department of Nursing and Health at Benedictine University says, “Benedictine delivers its RN to BSN completion program on the campus of Morton College, where a largely Hispanic population of RNs earn their A.A.S. in Nursing degree. Students advance their education with the support of peers and the convenience of working and earning their BSN in their home communities. Individualized support by the University faculty and service areas further facilitate the success of this first-generation group of RN students.”
There is still much work to be done in order to increase diversity in the nursing workforce. IACN membership is dedicated to making strides towards improvement, increasing diversity of nursing students, the nursing workforce, and overtime, the diversity of nurse educators. When asked about the importance of this topic, Dr. Renee Kidd-Marshall, Director of RN to BSN program at Eastern Illinois University said it best: “The nursing workforce must be diverse in order to meet the needs of a diverse population.”