Nurse.com’s Dan Suarez discusses the need to grow the ranks of Hispanic nurses and promote diversity in the healthcare industry
Despite evidence of a growing nursing shortage nationwide, the lack of diversity in the nursing workforce remains an issue. Even though the Hispanic population now accounts for about 18% of the U.S. population, Hispanic nurses make up only a small percentage of the overall healthcare workforce.
In this Q&A, Dan Suarez, BSN, MA, RN, NYAM, business development manager for OnCourse Learning’s Nurse.com in the New York region, discusses the importance of diversity in the nursing workforce, and the need to increase the number of Hispanic RNs in the nursing profession.
Suarez has worked for Nurse.com since 1996, and prior to that was a nurse recruitment professional at several New York area healthcare facilities. He is a long-time member of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses and is the organization’s immediate past president.
Q: You have been a member of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses for the past 18 years and are the organization’s immediate past president. What has the organization done to attract more Hispanic and minority populations to the nursing profession?
A: The National Association of Hispanic Nurses has received a generous grant from the National Institutes of Health to implement a public education and outreach project that seeks to increase diversity in the Nursing workforce. Our project partner, Hispanic Communications Network, will be leveraging its radio production expertise and its national network of affiliate stations to record and broadcast a series of interviews featuring mentors and testimonials from nurses across the U.S. in Spanish and English.
We also decided to begin by opening up our professional society to students who are thinking of becoming nurses as a primary goal. We want to admit high school students into our association who are serious about becoming nurses, as well as those who are in college in their first two years who want to go into nursing but have not yet been admitted to a program. By doing so, we can reach out and mentor them and expose them to an association that is willing to guide them through their education and career progression.
Q: There is a nationwide nursing shortage, and the shortage of nurses is particularly acute in underserved communities. Can bringing more Hispanic nurses into the profession help address those shortages?
A: NAHN promotes the recruitment of Hispanic students in nursing education programs in order to increase the number of bilingual and bicultural nurses who may provide culturally sensitive nursing care to all consumers. With only 4% of RNs being of Hispanic background, we need more Hispanic nurses to serve the increasing number of Hispanics in the U.S., which is projected to reach 30% of the nation’s population by 2050, according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau and Pew Research Center. By 2043, the U.S. is projected to become a majority minority nation for the first time in its history, and the Hispanic population will more than double between now and 2060. These statistics illustrate that nurses will be caring for a progressively diverse population and increase the urgency to build a more diverse RN workforce.
When you have a diverse workforce, you have nurses with knowledge and skills to meet the diverse needs of patients. The patient’s cultural identification, spiritual affiliation, language and gender can all affect the care they need, and it is very important that the nurse understands that. I am excited and hopeful as we look into the future because diversity in the nursing workforce is being highlighted as a critical priority by many nursing organizations.
Q: Despite being one of the fastest-growing demographic groups, Hispanics still make up a relatively small percentage of the total nursing workforce. What are some of the barriers facing Hispanic nurses and what can be done to bring more into the profession?
A: Short-term, we need to make sure we mentor our college students to help them get into nursing school with the proper preparation they need to be successful. We need to make sure students view the process of acceptance as fair and equal to all applicants by standardizing the acceptance process, regardless of what school they apply to. We do know that schools can take only so many students because there are a limited number of faculty to teach them. Some schools will place students on a waiting list. As a result, many of those students may choose a different educational track, and therefore we lose valuable assets to the nursing profession. We need to look at our educational system and change it from top to bottom to reflect what we need in the future. Faculty salaries have been stagnant; in fact, they are dismal. But our nursing faculty is on the front line, and we need to support them because they are the ones educating our future nurses.
Long-term, many professional organizations don’t have a pipeline of young applicants. We need to help elementary schools focus more on healthcare and to emphasize science and technology. Student nurses must take pharmacology, chemistry and biology courses, so getting children interested in science early on will help prepare them for such courses later.
Q: Why is it important to have a diverse workforce, from an organizational and patient care perspective?
A: If a patient comes into the ED, and the nurse there can speak their language and say a few words in that patient’s native tongue, it brings the patient comfort in knowing the nurse can advocate for them. We know as nurses that as a result of having a diverse workforce we get better patient outcomes, and that’s the vision of nurses. We want to make patients feel better, get better and stay well.
Q: What can hospital administrators and healthcare recruiters do to attract/recruit more Hispanic nurses?
A: I get this question a lot [from hospital administrators and recruiters]. I tell them to look at the patients they serve and then to look at their executive and recruiting teams to ensure they are reflecting the needs of the community they serve. If your facility does not reflect the diversity of the community it serves, it will be harder to get minority nurses to join your healthcare system. Minority nurses do not want to feel like they are tokens on a unit; they want to be part of the changes that all nurses can bring to the organization.
Diversity of healthcare organizations is critical and reflective of nursing leadership; therefore, the American Organization of Nurse Executives developed guiding principles to support the work of administrators in creating an environment that is inclusive and “acceptant of differences.” At NAHN, we welcome partnerships with healthcare organizations across the country and urge them to consider appointing a NAHN member to their decision-making body, consistent with the AONE Guiding Principles to establish metrics to monitor targeted diversity benchmarks. Appointing a nurse to a hospital board also is based on the recommendations of the landmark Institute of Medicine report that calls for nurses to assume leadership positions on boards and executive teams so they can affect positive change in health.
Q: Could you discuss the importance of mentoring in bringing more Hispanic nurses into the profession, and what makes someone a successful mentor?
A: NAHN provides Hispanic nurses with a formal mentoring process to build a more diverse nurse population. The curriculum we put together contains a literature review that provides evidence that there is a need for mentoring among Hispanic nurses. From a theoretical perspective, the curriculum presents a conceptual framework to guide the development of NAHN’s Mentorship Academy.
Latino nursing students struggle with the balance of home life, school and work. A 2009 study by Jessica Alicea-Planas, PhD, MPH, RN, assistant professor at Fairfield University School of Nursing, found many of the Hispanic students enrolled in higher education were the first generation to attend college, and it was hard for some of the family elders to understand the level of commitment and difficulty involved with such accomplishments. Alicea-Planas recommends student nurses get involved with the NAHN to incorporate mentoring that will help them identify with others similar to themselves who have achieved success.
It is very important that the mentoring process is entered as a commitment on both sides. Students must feel comfortable in discussing with their mentors anything that would help them realize their dreams. Mentors must be willing to listen to their students and advise them with open dialoque to gain their confidence and trust.