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Diversity in Healthcare

Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Healthcare Matters

Ernest Grant, Ph.D., RN, FAAN

President, American Nurses Association (ANA)

In less than a decade, the population of people who are two or more races is projected to be the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group, followed by Asians, Hispanics, and Black Americans. 

Sadly, people of color in this country continue to be disproportionately affected by healthcare inequities and disparities, and social determinants of health — where a person lives, their social environment, income, and education — can exacerbate challenges further. All these factors can impede a person’s access to quality healthcare services and impact their overall health and quality of life.

There is no single solution to these challenges, however, building diverse healthcare workforces, increasing health literacy, and addressing barriers to healthcare services can help create more equity and inclusion in healthcare.  

Representation in healthcare

Healthcare professionals should reflect the diversity in our society and in our patients. Diversity in healthcare fosters cultural competence and removes socio-cultural barriers to receiving care in clinical settings, such as language, values, and shared belief systems. To promote diversity in nursing, I would urge nurses from diverse populations to reach out to those of similar backgrounds. Being visible in schools, houses of worship, and community events is a small but meaningful step. Our presence can subvert entrenched stereotypes about what a nurse “can” and “should” look like. 

Nearly half of all American adults — 90 million people — have difficulty understanding and using health information. Positive patient experience and trust in healthcare providers can be powerful drivers of health outcomes. In my experience, people are more likely to engage and seek care from someone who looks like them. We must endeavor to connect with communities of color where they live, through leaders they trust. The onus is on healthcare professionals to make the effort.

From the ground up

Creating a diverse workforce and improving health literacy is not enough. We must uproot the entrenched biases, harmful stereotypes, racist attitudes, and social injustices that have long harmed the most vulnerable among us. We have seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has torn through non-white communities across the country, leaving them to bear nearly three times the rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths as white communities. Negligence in providing safe and equitable healthcare has eroded trust and caused communities of color to be suspicious of the healthcare system. 

None of this is a coincidence, but rather the results of years of neglect and a refusal to embrace the diversity of our nation, and all the benefits that would confer. 

There is still much work to do to address health disparities and inequalities to foster cultures that value understanding, belonging, open dialogue, and inclusion, both within healthcare and in our communities at large. Together, we can create a more just, equitable, and effective healthcare system.

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