How Changing Nurse Demographics Impact Cultural Sensitivity

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

Nurses play one of the most critical roles in healthcare—there are more nurses than any other profession in the healthcare industry. As the nursing workforce changes and becomes more diverse, their ability to provide culturally sensitive care will likely improve.

In the United States alone, by one estimate, there are 3.9 million nurses, with a projected need for a million more nurses as soon as this year.  (Haddad & Toney-Butler, 2020). Nurse hiring will continue to be urgent for the foreseeable future. The ongoing problem of nurse shortages can occur for multiple reasons—whether due to an educational system challenged to produce nurses at a speed matching industry needs, and others are related to nurses leaving the profession as a response to burnout, or because it is time to retire. Another dilemma for healthcare is that of nurses are not distributed equally nationwide, which causes problems for locales in the midst of explosive growth while other areas remain stagnant.

Nurse Demographics Tell a Further Story

These following data points, cited in a previous HealthStream blog post, demonstrate some of the systemic challenges for the nursing workforce:

  • The U.S. Population Is Aging – By 2029, when the last of the baby boomers retire, the population of those aged 65 or older will be 71 million, a 73% increase from the 41 million of 2011.
  • The Nursing Workforce Is Aging – one million nurses are aged 50 or older, meaning 1/3 will likely retire within the next 15 years
  • We Need More Nurses – Even the states with the lowest growth rates are anticipated to need at least 11% more nurses through 2022
  • Nurse Turnover Is Still a Problem—rates vary from nearly 9% to 37%, depending on location and specialty

However, according to Arkansas State University, “Today’s nurses are younger, more diverse and more likely to be male than they were even a few years ago. More than ever, members of minority groups are entering nursing, as are more graduates of foreign nursing programs. Education levels are increasing as more college graduates retrain, more nurses return to school and more students choose nursing majors. These nurses are bringing with them a range of perspectives, experience and knowledge that enriches the field. Although the profession is growing, there is still plenty of room for new graduates. Today’s nursing workforce is experiencing rapid change and significant demands coming from a variety of sources.”

More Men and More Minorities in Nursing Workforce

The National Nursing Workforce Study offers the following statistics about nursing demographics in their most recent completed study (2017):

  • “Average age of RNs is 51, consistent with the 2015 and 2013 study findings.
  • Data indicates a growing number of male RNs; 9.1% in 2017, compared to 8.0% in 2015 and 6.6% in the 2013 study.
  • 19.2% of RN respondents were minorities, which includes ‘other’ and ‘two or more races.’
  • Percentage of males in LPN/VN workforce increased from 7.5% in 2015 to 7.8% in 2017.
  • LPN/VNs were more racially diverse than their RN counterparts with approximately 29% of LPN/VNs identifying as racial minorities.”

Greater Diversity Among Nurses May Enhance Cultural Sensitivity in Care

In an earlier post, HealthStream examined how providing culturally sensitive and competent nursing care may seem like a difficult task, especially in cases where patients’ beliefs and practices are dissimilar or unfamiliar to the nurse. Regardless of individual background, nurses must ensure that they provide equal and ethical care to all patients. A more diverse nursing workforce will likely be more flexible and culturally sensitive in the care they provide.

Providing culturally sensitive nursing care begins with adherence to a basic principle of healthcare ethics—autonomy. To support autonomy, a nurse respects the patient right to make their own decision, even if it contradicts the morals and beliefs of the healthcare provider. To uphold a patient’s autonomy, a nurse must take into account the patient’s culture. Culture comprises a group’s beliefs, traditions, and customs. However, nurses also must balance reliance on individual thinking and cannot assume that a patient holds certain cultural beliefs simply because that patient identifies with a certain ethnicity, religion, or social group.

When a nurse first cares for a patient, it is essential that nurses take the time to understand the patient’s own culture. A large part of one’s culture is how they view health and illness. The nurse must address the patient’s personal beliefs and feelings regarding their own health and care and understand how that ties into the patient’s culture.

HealthStream Focuses on Nurses and Clinical Development

At HealthStream we spend a lot of time focused on improving outcomes by supporting and developing the clinical workforce. HealthStream’s jane™ is The World’s First Digital Mentor for Nurses. Jane harnesses the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to create a system that personalizes competency development at scale, quickly identifies risk and opportunity, and improves quality outcomes by focusing on critical thinking. Leveraging decades of research and with over 4 million assessments completed, Jane was designed to power lifelong, professional growth of clinical professionals. JaneTM is an important component of HealthStream’s suite of clinical development solutions.