Diversity in Nursing?: A Brief Look At Why Black Nurses Are So Important In Healthcare


The care and contribution of the black nurse in the United States stems well over a century. Since the arrival to this country, African-Americans have received the brutal end of health care and health outcomes due to unjust and discriminatory practices. The path to becoming licensed healthcare professionals was no exception. Throughout this country’s history, African-Americans had to persevere to earn the same qualifications as their non-black counterparts. However, with relentless determination and despite countless obstacles, nursing pioneers like Mary Eliza Mahony, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Estelle Massey Osborne1 were able to blaze the way for future nurses of color through advocacy, education, and activism.

Diversity In Demand

Due to healthcare inequities, economic oppression, and systematic racism that plague black communities, these individuals are often underserved and underrepresented in professional roles, including nursing. Often times, African-Americans were simply denied access to nursing programs or were forced to be educated separately from their white counterparts, despite eligibility. For many years, the lack of presence of licensed black healthcare professionals led millions to feel excluded from a culturally incompetent healthcare system. Studies have even shown that African-American patients encounter biased medical treatment, increased disregard, and inaccurate research that often lead to improper care. Therefore, it is extremely important to have diverse and adequate representation within the nursing profession to help ensure health equity and patient advocacy.

Thankfully, there has been an increased number of licensed African-American nurses over the years. However, due to the barriers previously mentioned, as well as the slow progress in correcting those issues, the statistics have only risen slightly. Since the 1910 census, the number of black nurses have only grown from 3% to about 10%. However, possibly due to the need to pursue higher levels of education, African-Americans are more likely to obtain baccalaureate degrees (or higher) in nursing than white Americans. Additionally, with the increased nationwide nursing shortage, organizations like the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA), the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), and others have made initiatives to meet diversity goals, promote mentorship and retention, and prepare educators to increase minority representation within the profession.

The Path Ahead

From the enslaved local healers who provided the only care available to these communities, to the current advanced practiced professionals who have pushed healthcare forward with groundbreaking advancements and practices, African-Americans continue to transcend obstacles in order to provide one of the most basic human rights–proper healthcare. While there may be a long path ahead, their ambitious achievements and contributions to nursing are truly inspiring. African-American nurses have done tremendous work in public health, policy, medicine, education, and research. However, to truly reflect the diversity of this nation, equal access to healthcare, education, and leadership must be required to transform a system with a longstanding history of exclusion and injustice. Only then can we see the true success of healthcare in America.

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