Black nurses vital in helping to address health disparities for minorities | Viewpoint

Black nurses vital in helping to address health disparities for minorities | Viewpoint

Celia McIntosh

“Diversifying the health care workforce provides an opportunity to destruct the systemic biases and racial inequities that persist in health care.” —Konrad Shirley

The United States is becoming increasingly more diverse, yet the nursing workforce does not reflect this changing demographic, especially for black nurses.

Nurses are the largest and most trusted segment of the health care workforce. Numbering over 4 million, white nurses account for over 80% of the current nursing workforce. According to data from the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey, Black/African American RNs increased from 6.0% in 2013 to 6.7% in 2020. This has not been a significant change, and needless to say, Black nurses in the profession do not represent the US population.

It is imperative to have a diverse nursing workforce with different backgrounds and perspectives. Nurses from diverse backgrounds can relate to their patient’s lived experiences, understand the stark challenges they face in their communities, and can help advocate for improved health care delivery.

Having a diverse nursing workforce that has adequate resources to provide quality patient care is essential in achieving health equity, decreasing health disparities, and eliminating racism that affects health care. It will take an all-hands-on-deck approach to improve the nursing profession’s overall cultural competence and diversification to improve patient access and quality of care.

Black nurses are vital in the health care system and communities. Throughout history, black nurses’ contributions to health care have been left out of the narrative. Black nurses were also excluded from many nursing organizations. They formed their own to use it as a vehicle to serve their community and connect with other black nurses.

The National Black Nurses Association, Inc. (NBNA) was organized in 1971 by Dr. Lauranne Sams, former Dean and Professor of Nursing at the School of Nursing, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Alabama. NBNA is a nonprofit organization incorporated in 1972 in Ohio and represents approximately 200,000 African American nurses from the US, Canada, Eastern Caribbean, and Africa, with 115 chartered chapters nationwide.

NBNA’s mission is “to represent and provide a forum for Black nurses to advocate and implement strategies to ensure access to the highest quality of healthcare for persons of color.” NBNA is committed to excellence in education and conducts continuing education programs for nurses and allied health professionals throughout the year. The association provides annual scholarships for students. In addition, NBNA collaborates with private and public agencies/organizations that share common concerns for improving the health status of all people, particularly African Americans and other minority consumers.

The Rochester Black Nurses Association (RBNA) was formed in 2018; our motto is “The health of community health: bridging the gap.” RBNA nurses bridge the gap by working with community members and partners to help improve the community’s health. Many of the nurses in our organization live and work in the communities they serve. The literature suggests that black nurses are more likely to practice in underserved areas with large populations of communities of color. Having these perspectives and these real-time experiences makes the nurse relatable.

Black nurses also understand the historical impact of racism within the community and can help shed light and educate community members who may mistrust the system.

Black nurses can advocate for improved treatment and conditions within healthcare organizations for black patients. They can challenge nursing schools to increase diversity in their programs and curriculum.

They can build a community for nurses to feel included and supported so that they can thrive in their profession.

Celia McIntosh, DNP, RN, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC, SCRN, CCRN, CEN, CNRN, is a Doctorally prepared Psychiatric Mental Health and Family Health Nurse Practitioner. She is the current President of the Rochester Black Nurses Association (RBNA), a career coach, owner, and Chief Advocacy Officer of McIntosh Advocacy and Consulting. McIntosh is an inspiring leader in the Rochester community in her professional work, tireless advocacy for the Black and Brown community, and commitment to educating the public about the ubiquity of human trafficking, maternal mortality, and racial disparities.