Apr 1, 2024 - Health

Nursing workforce is becoming more diverse

Illustration of a pattern of bandaids in different shades.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

New federal data show America's nursing workforce has become more diverse over the past 15 years, but underrepresentation remains a problem in a field struggling with burnout and racism.

Why it matters: A diverse nursing workforce can reduce health disparities, provide more culturally competent care and, in turn, improve patient outcomes.

Zoom in: Black registered nurses made up 11% of the workforce in 2022, up from 8% in 2018 and about 5% in 2008, according to a survey of 50,000 nurses conducted by the Health Resources and Services Administration with the U.S. Census Bureau.

  • 9% of RNs identified as Asian in 2022, up almost double from 5% in 2018.

HRSA said the trends are consistent with overall changes in America's racial and ethnic makeup. However, Black and Hispanic nurses are still underrepresented compared to the U.S. population.

  • The share of Hispanic nurses actually fell to 10% in 2022 from 12% in 2018. The share of nurses who speak Spanish also dropped to 7% from 9%.

Between the lines: Numerous studies and calls to action in recent years have emphasized the need diversify the ranks of frontline health providers.

  • Burnout fueled by racism from patients and colleagues is taking a toll on Black nurses, an Urban Institute report warned last year.
  • 63% of nurses reported personally experiencing racism in their workplace in a separate 2022 survey.

The bottom line: There need to be sustained efforts to recruit and retain nurses of color to ensure the field continues to diversify, health care groups say.

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