3 Ways Nurse Leaders Can Support Diversity in Healthcare

One phrase to come out of the last decade is “representation matters,” meaning people need to feel represented in a space or environment to feel validated. Politics, television, film, sports and other spaces are improving in this area, as more and more people of color are challenging stereotypes and filling roles they have not before.

Yet, the U.S. needs more diversity across a number of industries and sectors, including healthcare. While their primary focus is on healthcare, nursing professionals can make an impact in supporting diversity and equity across populations. Graduates of a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Leadership and Administration degree — like that from Southern Utah University (SUU) — are especially prepared to overcome this challenge and affect change.

Diversity in Nursing: Reflecting Patient Demographics

As the American Nurses Association (ANA) notes, diverse nursing teams “strengthen the quality of care they provide to their patients” and, in effect, address health disparities, enhance work environments and increase community engagement. Diversity in nursing encompasses gender, veteran status, race, disability, age, religion, ethnic heritage, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation and expression, education status, national origin and physical characteristics.

Nurses pledge to provide the same level of care to everyone in their charge, but that doesn’t always ring true — conscious or unconscious bias by healthcare professionals means not every individual receives the same quality care. Nursing professionals must be aware of the barriers to diversity in nursing and the strategies for implementing equitable practices.

The ANA notes some examples of implementing nursing diversity on the organizational level:

  • Building a diversity, equity and inclusion statement for an organization
  • Diversifying organizational recruitment practices
  • Establishing community partnerships

A Focus on Health Equity

Lack of diversity in the nursing workforce is not a “new” issue. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) notes that while 40% of the U.S. population identified as people of color in 2020, only 19.4% of the registered nurse (RN) workforce identified as people of color.

The Institute of Medicine (IoM), now the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), made diversity a key point in its landmark report, “The Future of Nursing.” By promoting and supporting diversity within the nursing workforce, the healthcare industry can achieve greater health equity.

As the ANA notes, benefits of a diverse industry include:

  • Safer, more customized care for minority groups
  • Culturally sensitive models of intervention
  • Better overall patient outcomes and cost savings
  • Improved nursing research, education, administration and leadership within organizations

Improved research, education and leadership are especially critical for this movement to gain traction, as nurse leaders and administrators can contribute to a positive cycle of diversity. The more nurses in these leadership positions employ diversity within their organizations, the greater their impact on the entire healthcare universe, including patients and providers.

Advocacy and Implementation in Motion

Diversity has many facets, all of which contribute to better patient outcomes. Nursing leaders can make significant strides within their organizations by focusing on three key areas:


Not every nurse on staff in a hospital, clinic or any healthcare setting will be “equal” in skill level. An MSN degree can help you level up your knowledge and expertise beyond an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).

Every nurse and patient in these settings are equal as people and should be treated as such. Contributor to the National Library of Medicine, Rosie Stenhouse, says equality means “nurses must treat people as individuals, avoid making assumptions about them, recognize diversity and individual choice, and respect and uphold their dignity and human rights.”

Cultural Competency

Indeed notes that culturally competent care consists of four components:

  1. Awareness of one’s cultural worldview
  2. Attitudes toward cultural differences
  3. Knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews
  4. Cross-cultural skills

When all four are integrated into practice, nurses can build a positive, trustworthy relationship with their patients — a crucial component of nursing care.


Representation is critical in all facets of society, healthcare included. For example, a nursing staff of all-white, cisgender females in their 40s might find it difficult to relate to a young, Asian-American transgender man — and vice versa. Walking into such a scenario could put the patient in an uncomfortable position. This can keep the patient from returning or make them hesitant to seek care elsewhere, fearing the same lack of representation.

How much of a deficit is the U.S. in regarding representation? The AACN reports that only 19.2% of practicing nurses are people of color, and only 7.4% are men (as of 2020). However, individuals who complete nursing degrees beyond the associate level contribute to better representation in the field.

The AACN also notes that nurses of minority backgrounds are more likely than their white counterparts to pursue higher education in nursing. This includes African American (52.5%), Hispanic (51.5%) and Asian (75.6%) nurses.

Diversity in Healthcare: Promoting “Difference”

The American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) compiled a guide containing principles for improving diversity in healthcare organizations. Two of the group’s essential principles perfectly reflect the continuing mission among nurses, nurse leaders and the healthcare industry:

  1. Diversity is more than a compliance issue; it is an issue of stewardship of human resources.
  2. Difference is not a problem; it’s an opportunity to learn and grow.

Students in SUU’s online MSN in Leadership and Administration program gain the skills to foster diversity in the field through courses like the Integrated Pharmacology, Pathophysiology, and Physical Assessment course and the Managing People & Organizations course. These give students the sociocultural context to understand patients’ experiences and backgrounds. If nurses — especially those in leadership positions — keep these principles in mind, the benefits to others in the organization can (and will) result in significant progress.

Learn more about Southern Utah University’s Master of Science in Nursing in Leadership and Administration online program.

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