The Changing Face of Nursing

Laughing medical personel standing in a corridor having a conversation.

Individuals who self-identify as African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic or Pacific Islander are expected to constitute a majority of the U.S. population by 2044, yet today’s nursing profession is overwhelmingly White and female.

This brief describes strategies that have effectively increased nursing student and workforce diversity, highlights lessons learned and provides a list of resources to support future efforts.

The Issue
Research reveals that Americans tend to receive better quality care when health professionals mirror the ethnic, racial and linguistic backgrounds of their patients. While the makeup of the nursing workforce is more diverse than it was two decades ago, challenges remain. Only 10% of registered nurses (RNs) are men, and just slightly more than a quarter of RNs come from racial and ethnic minority groups.

Key Findings

  • Programs that actively engage young minority students, media campaigns that feature nurses from underrepresented groups and degree programs tailored to career changers can attract a more diverse group of applicants to nursing programs.

  • The use of holistic review—which expands admissions criteria beyond test scores and grades—can lead to a more diverse student body.

  • Schools that provide a mix of academic, social and financial supports and that foster inclusive environments are best able to retain and graduate students from underrepresented groups.

  • Successful workforce diversity programs require employer flexibility and the engagement of upper-level management.

Experience suggests that no single diversity strategy works in all instances, and some strategies can backfire. Several approaches may be needed at each stage along the education-to-employment continuum, and these should be tailored to specific communities and institutions.

To view content after June 2017, visit Charting Nursing's Future at its new home on the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action website.

About the Series
For 10 years, Charting Nursing’s Future has assembled research and expert opinion to inform readers about policies and best practices that are transforming nursing, health care and public health. Propensity LLC currently produces this series.