The healthcare industry is currently facing a reckoning, albeit a very slow one, centered on inclusivity and diversity. With patients from all around the world and from many different cultures, there is no excuse for medical professionals in the US to have difficulty respecting their cultural beliefs and needs. Unfortunately, the medical field is still evolving in the face of renewed societal attention on systemic racism and the pervasive discrimination that many populations experience while seeking help.
This article will explore the importance of inclusivity and diversity in creating an accessible healthcare system. It will also discuss how today’s nursing education integrates both of them into the curriculum and learning process.
Why do inclusivity and diversity in healthcare matter?
Inclusivity and diversity are crucial to creating a healthcare system that is accessible to everyone regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity or religious beliefs. As it stands, many people are afraid to visit their physicians because they feel as though their lifestyle and activities might be judged in the process of obtaining healthcare. The last thing that anyone wants to experience is a litany of microaggressions and macroaggressions, and this is especially true when they are struggling with health issues. Whether they are living with a chronic condition or are in need of acute care, all patients deserve quality and respectful care.
We’ll go into more detail about whether inclusivity and diversity awareness are still needed in the healthcare system (spoiler alert: they absolutely are), but for now, let’s just take a closer look at the ways that they can improve patient outcomes across the board.
Eliminate healthcare disparities
Diversity and inclusivity help address the healthcare disparities faced by many different population groups. From ethnic and racial minorities to disabled individuals and people identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community, it is more remarkable to find a population adequately served by the healthcare system than it is one that is not. By having an increased understanding of the unique needs that each of these groups possesses, and addressing each of them methodically and systematically, healthcare providers can work toward improving access to competent medical care to everyone.
Improve cultural competence
Similarly to the above, inclusivity and diversity can lead to better patient outcomes by recognizing the concerns and beliefs of different cultures. Not everyone shares the same ideas about health, and understanding what each community considers ‘important’ and ‘taboo’ can help providers identify unique risks that the patients in these communities experience. Some might be discouraged from coming back to follow-up appointments, for example, while others might balk at services such as annual women’s health examinations. Each of these risks must be considered to ensure that patients receive not just competent care, but also care that is as effective as possible in light of culture-specific beliefs and concerns.
Improve patient-centered care and communication
Inclusive healthcare systems promote effective communication and patient-centered care. Providers who value diversity and recognize the different needs of different communities are better able to communicate with their patients. This is true on a few different levels. On a practical level, valuing inclusivity and diversity often leads to a diverse staff of providers who understand the languages of as many of the local communities as possible. In areas with a large Latino population, for example, many physicians either speak Spanish or work closely with nurses and other providers who do. This helps improve the literal communication between patients and providers.
On a less-concrete level, inclusivity in healthcare allows providers to relate to their patients. Think about this in terms of advertising. Let’s say that you are marketing a large tote bag with many different compartments and organizers. If you are targeting new moms, you might call it a diaper bag and promote its usefulness in that regard. If your target audience is busy career women on the go, on the other hand, you might instead emphasize the ability to carry laptops and other portable devices in style while out and about. The difference in strategy comes from understanding the different needs of the audience in question and adapting your approach to meet them.
Patients don’t need to be marketed to, of course, but the same idea holds true. Care providers who understand the ins and outs of the culture in question are better able to build strong relationships and trust levels that allow them to better treat their patients.
Improve innovation and problem-solving
Diversity promotes innovation and creativity by bringing together individuals with different experiences, expertise and perspectives. This often translates to more creative and effective problem-solving, which benefits patients as well as personnel in the long run.
As you can see, inclusivity and diversity are incredibly important in the healthcare system. Not only do they ensure that every patient receives the care and respect they deserve, but they also keep the population healthier as a whole. This, in turn, leads to a happier, more productive country. Unfortunately, there is a lot of work to be done until we are able to reap these benefits. In order to understand how the healthcare system needs to change, we should take a closer look at the current state of affairs.
Is discrimination still an issue in healthcare?
If there is one thing that many people across the country are facing together, it’s health concerns. More people are struggling with their wellness levels around the world, and the US is no different.
Obesity, new concerns such as ‘long COVID’, mental health struggles, cardiovascular disease and diabetes are on the rise. While most of these can be tied to obesity in some way, they are also related to other societal factors.
Why do we bring up these issues? We want to demonstrate the critical importance of the healthcare system not only to individuals but also to the country as a whole. Without an effective medical industry that prioritizes preventive care and works to help people living with health problems overcome them as much as possible, the US will find the costs of public healthcare rising significantly.
The problem here is that the current state of the medical system is not one that is welcoming to all. In fact, a significant portion of the country avoids seeking healthcare specifically because they’re afraid of discrimination. One recent study researching the health concerns faced by transgender people found that nearly 23% of the surveyed individuals avoided taking advantage of healthcare opportunities even when the need for them was dire. Another nationally representative survey of the US adult public (of all orientations) found that more than 21% of people surveyed experienced some form of discrimination in the medical field. Even more pressing is that of those individuals, more than 70% of them experienced discrimination more than one time. Race/ethnic discrimination was the type of discrimination most commonly reported, but discrimination based on a number of additional factors such as sex, income level, education level and sexual orientation was also reported.
Luckily, changes are being made to address this issue. In fact, some of them are already in process. As a recent study explains, hospital leaders are increasingly realizing the impact that these issues have on the patient, the healthcare facility and the provider as a whole. Patient outcomes are directly impacted by the culture in which they are nursed, and organizations that make an effort to improve diversity and inclusion are also finding that their bottom line improves. The takeaway here is that while the healthcare system in the US is one that can benefit from improvement, these needs are not falling on deaf ears. The entire industry is working hard to offer patients a much better experience regardless of their ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other ‘special status’.
There are a few ways that today’s current and future healthcare leaders are making inclusion and diversity a priority, but the most important of them is via education. Professionals with an education emphasizing respect and equality of treatment for each patient make more conscious decisions and work to change the culture of healthcare organizations from the inside. Healthcare education is currently the ‘proving ground’ of new techniques designed to eliminate racism from the industry, and there are a few exciting ways that diversity is being highlighted in education.
Increased focus on diversity in education
We know that diversity and inclusivity in the healthcare industry are as critical as they are lacking. Is modern nursing education doing its part to educate fair and unbiased nurses? Many programs recognize the importance of integrating diversity and inclusivity into the curriculum. As long as you study at a well-respected university with an established and innovative nursing program, you will benefit from an updated academic structure that takes these issues into consideration. Look for programs such as those offered by Holy Family University Online. Its programs allow you to get your nursing degree remotely, and this kind of program option is often the best choice for today’s busy students.
Here are some of the specific ways that modern nursing education is tackling the important topics of diversity and inclusivity in the healthcare system.
Cultural competency training
Nursing curricula typically include courses focused on cultural competency. These aim to help students develop a broad understanding of diverse cultures and give them the skills they need to provide culturally sensitive care. This particular element of their education is incredibly important in the increasingly diverse medical field where patients come from all different cultures and nationalities. Cultural competency training helps nurses better recognize and respect cultural differences, adapt their care approaches accordingly, and effectively communicate with patients at every step of the care process.
Inclusive learning environments
A few decades ago, the field of nursing was very homogeneous. There was little diversity in either the workforce or the academic world, which naturally led to the prevalence of racism and other discrimination in the field. When everyone is the ‘same’, it becomes much easier for groupthink to take over. When that happens, anyone who is ‘rocking the boat’ by calling out harmful beliefs or actions is quickly deemed the problem, and any attempts to change the toxic culture are typically unsuccessful.
When you have a more diverse industry, it is more difficult for those attitudes to be perpetuated. The academic world has taken note of this and is constantly working to build vibrant teams where as many cultures as possible are represented. Nursing, in particular, offers students an inclusive learning environment that fosters inclusivity and respect.
Inclusion of social issues impacting patient health
Another area where nursing education is working to increase the diversity and inclusivity of its students and, by extension, the workforce is by teaching prospective nurses about the social issues, also known as determinants, that impact patient health. A patient’s background is important. Patients from low-income families, for example, are more prone to health issues caused by cheap food that’s high in fat and sugar. Female patients are more likely to experience certain health conditions than male patients, and ethnicity also impacts the way that certain health issues manifest.
Nurses who are aware of the ways that social determinants impact health will be better able to predict the origins of certain issues, and will therefore better prepare their patients to face them in the future.
Collaboration and teamwork
Finally, nursing education is highly focused on teamwork and collaboration. The importance of these abilities is hard to overstate as both are nearly inherent to the field of nursing. In order to provide patient-centered care, nurses must be able to engage in diverse and interdisciplinary teamwork that recognizes and respects cultural differences as well as a difference in skill level and specialty. By centering their education on these abilities, modern nursing education is ensuring that new nurses implicitly understand the importance of understanding different cultures.
What can you do to help?
There are a few different ways that nursing professionals, and prospective nursing professionals, can tackle the issue of inclusivity and diversity in the system.
As a practicing nurse
As a practicing nurse, it is critical that you pay attention to your own actions as well as those of your coworkers. Ask yourself if you’re giving the same effort and consideration to every patient, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation. Have you done everything you can to ease their pain? Be especially aware of making inappropriate and disparaging comments about the patient’s lifestyle or personal identity. As a nurse, your job is to ease pain and suffering, not encourage it.
As a student
As a nursing student, you have the opportunity to focus your attention on diversity and inclusion. Pay attention to the issues inherent to creating a truly diverse healthcare system and be ready to challenge them once you begin practicing. Build your morals and beliefs as concretely as possible, and they will serve you well in your career, even when times are tough, and the stress is on.
As an instructor
As an instructor, it is vital that you understand the importance of inclusivity and diversity in providing respectful, competent healthcare. Teach your students to see different cultures and communities as things to be respected, not ignored. Simply ignoring differences isn’t enough – students must be able to embrace them and use their diverse knowledge to better serve their patients.
Are you interested in effecting change in the healthcare system? If so, dedicate your studies to inclusivity and diversity in the medical field – by doing this, you’ll make a huge difference sooner rather than later.