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Cultural diversity of healthcare workforce key to improving nation’s health

(BPT) – By 2060, the American population will be older and more racially and ethnically diverse than at any other time in our history, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. The number of people older than 65 will double, and the need will grow for healthcare and registered nurses to provide it.

Even though nursing is one of the fastest-growing careers in the U.S., there won’t be enough registered nurses available to fill the rising demand for care, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). As America addresses an ongoing nursing shortage, healthcare leaders stress the importance of enhancing available healthcare services through the work of nurses who mirror and understand the ethnic and cultural diversity of the populations they care for.

When you’re ill, your need for care isn’t just about medical requirements. Recovery from injury, illness and surgery is a mental game, too, and studies have shown that having a nurse whom you feel understands you can improve your response to treatment.

The relevance of this correlation is rising with the minority population in the U.S. The Census Bureau predicts that minority residents will comprise 57 percent of the population in 2060. With the AACN reporting that nurses from minority backgrounds represent only 19 percent of the registered nurse workforce, there is growing opportunity for ethnically diverse nurses to care for increasingly diverse patients.

Studies have shown that when patients feel understood by their nurse, they are more likely to trust his or her recommendations, which can improve their health outcomes. Additionally, a nurse who is familiar with a patient’s culture – including diet, traditions and beliefs about medical treatment – is better equipped to address their specific needs.

Penelope Pattalitan, associate professor at the Chamberlain College of Nursing Miramar, Florida, campus, recently researched these barriers and outlined recommendations for how hospitals can streamline and support the transition of a nursing workforce with foreign and domestic educational backgrounds. One of many tactics Pattalitan recommends is improving training programs for foreign-educated nurses to acquaint them more thoroughly with nursing practices and technology in the United States.

“Certain adjustments to the orientation period of a foreign-educated nurse’s career in the U.S. increase the potential for career success and improve patient outcomes,” she says.

Based on her findings, Pattalitan recommends improving training and orientation programs to educate foreign-educated nurses – registered nurses who received nursing education in a country other than the U.S. – about new equipment, differences in the hospital set-up and environment, use of electronic health records, and cultural differences in the U.S., specifically when it comes to patients’ care.

“A nurse workforce that reflects greater diversity can help break down communication barriers and ensure better patient advocacy,” she says.

Similarly, educators and school administrators can help remove cultural obstacles that may hinder minority students from entering nursing programs by helping them identify resources that will make them more comfortable in their future profession.

Chamberlain College of Nursing, for example, is sensitive to the unique cultural needs across its student population. For instance, Arab-American students at Chamberlain’s Troy, Michigan, campus are provided with an alternative to the standard scrub pants, allowing them to wear traditional hijabs and long, modest skirts each day. The ankle-length scrub skirt option meets students’ needs, and also complies with the clinical site’s requirements.

Expanding the pipeline of nurses entering the U.S. healthcare workforce can help fill the projected nursing shortage and better address the changing healthcare landscape in this country. A pipeline of nurses that better reflects the national population can help healthcare professionals improve their understanding of patients’ cultural needs and sensitivities, enhancing the care they deliver and improving patient outcomes.

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