Understanding the True Importance of Cultural Diversity in Nursing

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four medical professionals standing in a group

All nurses operate under a strict code of ethics that includes a promise to provide the best care for all of their patients and the communities they serve. The code describes the values and duties that each nurse must fulfill to ensure that all patients receive the same high quality of care, regardless of race, gender, age, disability, and socioeconomic status. To accomplish this goal, nurses need to understand the true importance of cultural diversity in the nursing profession.

What Is Diversity Awareness?

The American Nurses Association (ANA) defines diversity awareness in nursing as the following:

Acknowledgement and appreciation of the existence of differences in attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, and priorities in the health-seeking behaviors of different patient populations; it reflects the nursing profession’s contract with society and our responsibility to act according to a strong code of ethics, i.e., to be aware of our own attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, and priorities in providing care to individual patients, families, communities, and populations.

Each day, nurses must make ethical decisions when assessing patients’ conditions and documenting their observations for physicians and other medical staff to review. Integrating an appreciation for cultural diversity into a nurse’s decision-making process can foster a positive nurse-patient relationship and encourage safer and healthier environments in care facilities.

Aspects of Cultural Diversity in Nursing

Culture has a significant influence in health-related beliefs and practices, according to an article by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). Factors such as language, geography, socioeconomics, gender, and education can play a large role in determining the decisions patients make about medical care, both for themselves and their families. The ANA has identified primary areas of cultural diversity:

  • Health insurance and health care access
  • Racial and ethnic minority communities
  • Mental health
  • Elderly
  • Bariatric/obesity

Patients in each of these areas can experience barriers to receiving an appropriate level of care if providers do not account for cultural differences. Nurses who are trained to deliver culturally competent care are prepared to alleviate these types of stress. Nurses must also understand how to accommodate patients’ cultural beliefs in conjunction with conventional medical practices. Acknowledging these types of patient differences can decrease the stress of the patient, which can positively impact the outcomes of their treatments, according to AACN.

Culturally Competent Nurses

While the nation’s current population is predominantly Caucasian, the United States Census Bureau anticipates that more than 50 percent of Americans will belong to a minority group by 2044. As the likelihood of working with patients from different cultural backgrounds increases, nurses must be motivated to learn about cultural diversity in their nursing practices to reduce risks to patients during treatment.

An NIH study found that nurses who lack a firm grasp of cultural differences can experience stress and frustration when working with culturally diverse patients and their families. To better prepare for these situations, nurses follow a cultural competence model to identify their own cultural health care beliefs, gain knowledge and skills about caring for different cultural groups, and engage with diverse patients to practice their skills on an ongoing basis. These actions can reduce risks to patients by opening lines of communication, which can reduce medical errors and make it easier for providers to identify early indications of disease, according to a study in the journal Critical Care Clinics.

Importance of a Culturally Diverse Nursing Workforce

As the population of patients accessing health care services in the U.S. becomes increasingly diverse, providers will need to make significant changes in their approaches to care. A 2014 paper by the National Conference of State Legislatures noted disparities in the cultural makeup of the health care workforce and of the country as a whole. At the time of the study, people of color represented over 25 percent of the nation’s population but only 10 percent of health professionals.

The study suggested that increasing the diversity of the medical workforce could improve health outcomes in culturally diverse patients in two different ways. First, when teams of health care professionals reflect the diversity of their patients, it is easier for providers to develop cultural competency, thus allowing patients and providers to communicate more openly. Also, patients tend to feel safer in facilities where they see diverse teams working together effectively.

Increasing the cultural diversity of the nursing workforce begins in programs that educate the health care professionals of the future. Earning an advanced degree, such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice, can prepare nurses to provide equitable, inclusive care that promotes a healthier, less stressful experience for patients and their families.

Learn More

Regis College prepares nurse practitioners to take the next step in their careers with the online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice program. RNs with a bachelor’s degree who enroll in the program experience the same rigorous academic classes as traditional students but with the flexibility of online courses.

Recommended Readings:

What Can I Do with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

How an Increasingly Complex Healthcare System is Reshaping What it Means to Be a Nurse Leader

5 Indispensable Nursing Skills That DNP-educated Nurse Practitioners Possess


American Nurses Association, Code of Ethics for Nurses

American Nurses Association

Critical Care Clinics

National Institutes of Health, “The Experience of Nurses in Care for Culturally Diverse Families: A Qualitative Meta-Synthesis”

National Conference of State Legislatures

Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

RN Journal

US Census Bureau