Nursing has traditionally been dominated by white women, but since 2008, a scholarship program from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has been working to increase diversity in the workforce.
Now, as the New Careers in Nursing Scholarship Program enters its final year, it is yielding lessons for all nurse leaders about the kinds of nursing grads who make the profession more diverse and well-rounded.
"The reason this is important, of course, is because the population of nursing does not really reflect the population at large," says Polly Bednash, PhD, RN, FAAN, CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and program director of the NCIN. "We are now working very aggressively to have the number of people entering the profession look more like the population of the United States."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, individuals from ethnic and racial minority groups accounted for 37% of the population in 2012, the AACN reports in a fact sheet about nursing diversity. But people from minority backgrounds represent just 19% of the RN workforce, according to a 2013 survey cited in the fact sheet conducted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and The Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers. Men are also significantly underrepresented in nursing.
"We need to have a nursing population that represents that same diversity," Bednash says. "That's how you get people the best care."