Shifting demographics mean changes in nursing
An increasingly diverse U.S. population is having a big effect on many aspects of American life — and the nursing profession is no exception.
“The nursing workforce should reflect society at large,” says Joyce Benjamin, a nurse practitioner and an instructor in the nursing program at the University of Phoenix Main Campus. That means the traditionally female and largely Caucasian profession will be more inclusive in the coming years.
Here are some ways the face of nursing is changing:
There are more male nurses.
More men are entering nursing than ever, according to a government report based on 2011 American Community Survey data. Men made up about 9.6 percent of the overall profession in 2011, more than triple the number of male nurses in 1970.
“The [nursing] profession has gained credibility through the Johnson & Johnson [Campaign for Nursing’s Future] initiatives, leading to a greater number of men finding nursing an appealing career choice,” says Betty Parisek, MSN, area chair for the nursing program.
In addition, Benjamin says, more gender diversity in the profession better reflects the patient population, which she believes helps improve trust and communication for nurses and patients.
The number of minority nurses is rising.
While U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics indicate that ethnic minorities made up only 16.8 percent of registered nurses in 2008, the number of minorities is increasing among nursing students.
In 2011, almost 27 percent of undergraduate nursing enrollees and 26 percent of master’s-level students were ethnic minorities, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. “[Nursing] is still not very diverse,” Benjamin acknowledges, “but there is better news on the horizon.”
More cultural awareness is required.
As patient demographics continue to shift, nurses must understand cultural nuances and how they affect health.
“Nursing [organizations] … are promoting culturally appropriate health care standards to [consider] diversity, language barriers and health literacy issues in patient-care practices,” Benjamin points out, adding that nurses must factor in each patient’s culture when recommending treatment.
For example, she says, nurses should consider ethnic cuisine preferences when giving nutritional advice to diabetics to ensure they are eating healthful meals that also incorporate their cultural preferences.
Meanwhile, as more minorities enter the profession, nurses will automatically have a better overall understanding of a diverse patient population, Parisek believes. “Increased diversity in nursing,” she maintains, “means a higher level of culturally sensitive care for all patients.”
The nurse population is aging.
Nursing demographics also reflect the graying of the general population as the baby boomer generation ages. “The average age of a [U.S.] nurse is 47,” Benjamin points out, citing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics.
As older nurses retire en masse in the coming years, there will be greater demand for younger nurses to replace them. “I encourage young women and men … to prepare for the future demands of the nursing role,” she says. “They will be more marketable [as] new opportunities open up for them.”