Diversity in Nursing: Benefits and Resources

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A family nurse practitioner treats a patient.The nursing profession has made strides in the diversity of its makeup. A 2020 National Council of State Boards of Nursing survey, for example, showed that 23% of registered nurses were from racial and ethnic minority groups — a slight increase from its last survey only a few years before.

However, nursing still lags behind the diversity of the U.S. population overall. More than 40% of the nation’s population identifies as people of color, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

Increasing the number of nurses from different races and ethnicities and other populations can lead to improved health care. Having a nursing staff that looks more like the overall patient population provides a greater understanding of the factors that contribute to patients’ well-being.

To encourage the diversity in nursing that’s so important to patient outcomes, the nursing community, including advanced nursing degree programs, is working to encourage broader participation in the field. Success in these efforts could lead to improved health outcomes for all.

Importance of Diversity in Nursing

A diverse workforce includes people with differences such as:

  • Race and ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Cultural background
  • Gender identity
  • Language
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Professional experience

A nursing work environment with representation from diverse groups can promote positive outcomes for patients and nurses alike. The following are some of the benefits that show the importance of diversity in nursing:

Diversity Benefits to Patients

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing encourages greater diversity in the nursing profession in an effort to provide effective care in a way that’s mindful of the differences of patients from various cultures. The positive effects that diversity can have on patients include the following:

  • Improved outcomes. A 2019 report in the Journal of the National Medical Association indicated that patients generally have better outcomes when receiving care from a diverse team of health professionals.
  • Equitable care. The 2021 book “The Future of Nursing 2020-2030” advocates for nursing staff members from diverse populations and varied experiences, indicating that it promotes equity in the quality of care for all groups.
  • Better understanding. A nursing staff comprising a diverse group of professionals brings a broad understanding that breaks down stereotypes and improves communication.
  • Greater trust. A WebMD report, for example, points out the mistrust that Black and Hispanic populations have in health care and cites diverse medical teams as a way to lessen the intimidation and fear that minority populations feel.
  • Positive experiences. Patients report greater connection and satisfaction with medical providers from the same background or community, according to Minority Nurse, and are more likely to comply with treatment plans.

Diversity Benefits for Nurses

Nurses themselves also benefit from diversity in the profession. The following are some of the positive effects that including professionals from many different populations can have on nurses:

  • Sense of belonging. Diverse staffing fosters an understanding of different backgrounds and cultures while also helping to look beyond differences to provide high-quality patient care.
  • Open communication. A group of employees that welcomes differences inspires confidence in sharing thoughts and opinions.
  • Diverse ideas. Groups of individuals with a broad range of viewpoints encourage more creative ideas — and, according to the Journal of the National Medical Association, an openness to change and innovation.
  • Greater collaboration. A diverse staff encourages the cultural awareness that facilitates more collaborative work to make decisions and establish plans.
  • Improved performance. Embracing diversity among individuals on a team leads to better engagement and morale, factors that the Harvard Business Review indicates lead to better performance.

Status of Diversity in Nursing

Diversity in nursing is on the increase in some key areas. Several organizations and programs are working to accelerate these increases to keep pace with the diversity of the overall population.

Progress in Nursing Diversity

The increase in racial and ethnic minorities to 23% of RNs in 2020 compares with 22.4% in 2017, according to the NCSBN survey. Additionally, as another example, men are increasingly choosing the RN career path. The NCSBN survey showed that 9.4% of RNs in 2020 were men, compared with 9% in 2017. Men comprised 34% of RNs who identified as Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander and 18% of Asians.

The NCSBN predicts that representation of racial and ethnic minorities and men among nurses will continue to grow. However, data indicates that the diversity of the nation’s population is increasing in various ways as well. That means work remains to be done in the effort to ensure that nursing’s diversity matches the diversity of society as a whole.

For example, Gallup reports that those identifying as LGBTQ was 5.6% in 2020 — up from 4.5% in 2017. The Oncology Nursing Society notes, however, that much of the emphasis on LGBTQ issues in the nursing community centers on patient care, not representation among nurses.

Advancing Nursing Diversity

Efforts are underway to help bring the diversity of nursing in line with that of the population it serves, including programs to increase the diversity of nursing students. The following are examples of those initiatives:

  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leadership Network. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing spearheads this effort to inform nursing schools’ diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. It also provides technical assistance and funding to support work aimed at increasing minority participation in nursing.
  • Campaign for Action. This effort from the AARP Foundation, AARP, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is promoting diversity in nursing as part of its health equity efforts. One area of focus is increasing diversity among nursing students. About 38% of prelicensure RN program graduates were from minority populations in 2019, and 14% were men, the Campaign for Action reports.

How Can Nurses Promote Diversity?

Individuals in the nursing community can also work to promote diversity in the field. Efforts can include everyday practices, such as getting to know others in the workplace who are from different backgrounds and including people from various populations in conversations and projects. They can also champion diversity and cultural sensitivity in the profession through efforts such as:

Joining and Supporting Nursing Organizations

Along with organizations that support the nursing profession in general on a statewide and national level, various organizations focus on specific minority populations in nursing. They offer resources for groups such as men (American Association for Men in Nursing), Black nurses (National Black Nurses Association), and Hispanic nurses (National Association of Hispanic Nurses).

Becoming a Nursing Leader

Nurses can pursue leadership roles, such as hospital board member or nursing organization officer, through which they can promote efforts that help increase diversity in nursing. They can also join or start a diversity committee at their workplace. For nurses who want to join a board, the Nurses on Boards Coalition works to connect them to opportunities.

Provide Quality Care for Diverse Populations Through Nursing Leadership

Nursing leaders can effect change that encourages high-quality care for all populations. The University of North Dakota’s online Master of Science in Nursing program can equip you with the leadership skills that help you make a difference in areas such as diversity in nursing — while also advancing your career.

The program allows you to focus on the role of either family nurse practitioner or psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, learning how to improve the well-being of patients from all walks of life. It offers this top-quality education with the convenience and flexibility of online learning.

Discover how UND’s online M.S.N. program can help you reach your professional goals.

Recommended Readings

Essential Nursing Skills for MSN Students

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Nursing?

What Kind of Nurse Should I Be? Exploring Nursing Specialties


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Enhancing Diversity in the Workforce

Campaign for Action, Increasing Diversity in Nursing

Campaign for Action, Welcome to the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action Dashboard

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups

Gallup, “LGBT Identification Rises to 5.6% in Latest U.S. Estimate”

Harvard Business Review, “When Patient Experience and Employee Engagement Both Improve, Hospitals’ Ratings and Profits Climb”

Indeed, 20 Benefits of a Diverse Workforce

Minority Nurse, Nursing Associations in the U.S.

Minority Nurse, “The Link Between Cultural Communication, Hospital Safety and Desired Outcomes”

National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Diversity Improves Performance and Outcomes”

National Center for Biotechnology Information, “The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity”

National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Results from the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey

Oncology Nursing Society, “Achieving Diversity and Inclusion in Nursing Requires a Closer Look at the Profession’s Structure”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “How Nurses Can Help Promote Diversity in the Industry”

The Society for Diversity, “Benefits of Having Cultural Diversity in a Health Care Organization”

WebMD, “Distrust of Medical System and Minority Health Care”