Back to Blog

What Does Diversity Mean in Nursing?

September 30, 2020  |  Category: Nursing

A nurse holds the hand of an older patient.

Nurses are called on to respond with sensitivity to everyone, regardless of race, disability, socioeconomic status, religion, or sexual orientation. Nurses seek ways to overcome barriers, such as stereotyping and bias, to deliver quality healthcare. Diversity in nursing better ensures that all patients feel welcome and get the best care.

What does diversity mean in nursing? The answer involves a diverse nursing workforce and how it responds to patients of various backgrounds.

Defining Diversity in Nursing

To understand what diversity means in nursing, take a closer look at the importance of diverse nursing workforces and the details of nursing care that address diverse patient communities.

Diverse Nursing Workforces

Nursing staffs that reflect patient diversity have an advantage: insight into patient beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions. Awareness of a person’s culture, environment, and religious views allows nurses to deliver effective, culturally informed care. A diverse nursing staff can also put patients at ease because patients relate to nurses who speak their language, share their religion, or have had similar experiences.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing recognizes that as the U.S. population grows increasingly diverse, so must the nursing workforce. Increasing diversity in the nursing workforce can serve as a vital strategy to address health inequities and guarantee that all patients receive dignified care.

Meeting the Needs of Diverse Communities

Patients’ backgrounds and experiences often influence how patients understand their own health, their relationship with healthcare providers, and their treatment. Cultivating diversity awareness gives nurses a leg up in improving communication, building trust and respect, and getting the best patient outcomes. Diversity awareness can also reduce health disparities for patients from marginalized communities.

Cultural humility — a mindset and an approach that encourages people to listen to others’ preferences by demonstrating empathy and engaging in respectful inquiry — allows nurses to serve diverse patient communities.

Stereotypes based on presumed cultural beliefs get in the way of a nurse’s ability to develop a good working relationship with patients. This ultimately harms care. Nurses must avoid stereotypes and general assumptions. Instead, they should take into account and respect a patient’s background. For example, nurses working with a large immigrant population from a particular country can learn the specifics about that culture but still expect variations from person to person.

The Importance of Diversity in Nursing

Respecting and valuing all patients is core to the nursing profession. The American Nurses Association’s code of ethics is clear on a nurse’s responsibility to deliver respectful, dignified care to everyone.

Unconscious biases and stereotypes of patients based on their backgrounds have consequences:

  • Poor communication between patients and care providers
  • Less effective patient care
  • Poor communication between healthcare providers
  • Lack of patient trust in the healthcare system
  • Low patient ratings of care

More specifically, biases can result in different treatment recommendations for patients. For example, the rates of screening for colorectal cancer and other diseases for patients of color lag behind the rates for white patients. However, focused efforts can make a difference.

HealthPartners is a case in point. The Minneapolis-based healthcare organization reached out to patients to identify unconscious bias among healthcare providers. This feedback significantly narrowed the gap in screenings between its white patients and patients of color.

Without cultural humility and deliberate efforts to overcome biases, nurses may unintentionally:

  • Undertreat pain in older people
  • Minimize women’s health complaints
  • Offer less aggressive care to people with substance abuse problems

Ensuring Equitable Care for Every Patient

Diversity training and education helps nurses deliver equitable care to patients of different races, cultures, genders, socioeconomic status, and religions. Such training develops cultural sensitivity, a deeper awareness of diversity, and cultural knowledge. The training can also build nurses’ understanding of the social and cultural factors that influence patients’ behaviors and beliefs about health.

What strategies can nurses use to provide patients with inclusive, culturally responsive care? To start, nurses can build empathy, counteract assumptions, and better incorporate patient needs and preferences into care. Nurses can also build awareness about their personal attitudes and beliefs that may lead to an unconscious bias against people from backgrounds different from their own. With awareness, nurses can eliminate tendencies to provide inequitable care in communication, treatment protocols, or treatment recommendations.
What does diversity mean in nursing when it comes to addressing patient populations experiencing health disparities? Consider how nurses and nurse leaders can provide more equitable care to historically marginalized groups.

Patients of Color

Patients of color are less likely to receive preventive health services than white patients. Nurses can use high patient engagement, which has been shown to improve patient care, as a tool to combat that problem.

Patient engagement involves empowering patients with full information about treatment options, medications, and all aspects of care. This allows them to take more active roles in decision-making about their health and fosters trust between patients and nurses.

LGBTQ Patients

LGBTQ patients report high rates of discrimination in the healthcare system. Nurses can deepen their knowledge of potential health risks of LGBTQ patients and work to create an inclusive environment for these patients.

This can involve learning relevant terms relating to gender identity or ensuring that the organization’s nondiscrimination policy is readily visible. Both actions let LGBTQ patients know that they’re in a safe space to share information.

Patients from Low Socioeconomic Backgrounds

Patients from low socioeconomic backgrounds tend to have less access to quality housing, insurance, employment, and nutritious food, all of which negatively affect overall health. When nurses ask about this, the insights they gain into patients’ health problems allow them to communicate more effectively about health-related conditions and make better decisions about care.

For example, a low-income patient with diabetes who doesn’t regularly check for blood sugar levels may not need another tutorial about the importance of controlling blood sugar levels if a lack of stable housing is interfering with their ability to care for their health. In this case, what the patient may need to control the diabetes is a referral to social services to address the housing issue.

Promote Equity in Healthcare

What does diversity mean in nursing? Today’s nurses and nursing leaders arm themselves with many strategies to deliver responsive, respectful healthcare to diverse communities. By focusing on culturally responsive care and seeking ways to build a nursing workforce that reflects diverse patient populations, nurses can ensure that all patients receive the equitable care they deserve.

Explore how the online Master of Science in Nursing from AdventHealth University Online prepares nurses to deliver culturally responsive care and build successful healthcare careers.

Recommended Readings

Advocating for Nurses with Disabilities

Managing Nurse Stress: Mental Health Tips and Resources

Nurse Burnout: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention


American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, Providing Culturally Competent Care for African Americans

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Importance of Social Determinants of Health and Cultural Awareness in the Delivery of Reproductive Health Care

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

American Nurses Association, Ethics and Human Rights

Health Affairs, “The Case for Diversity in the Health Care Workforce”

MedPage Today, “The Importance of Diversity in Nursing”

National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Cultural Competence and Ethnic Diversity in Healthcare”, “10 Tips for Caring for LGBTQ Patients”

ScienceDirect, “Not Missing the Opportunity: Strategies to Promote Cultural Humility Among Future Nursing Faculty”

ScienceDirect, “Nursing Workforce Diversity: Promising Educational Practices”