Narrowing Racial Disparities in Nursing

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, October 30, 2012

Despite ongoing efforts to improve nursing diversity, minorities continue to be underrepresented in the nursing profession. But over the past few weeks, I've read about several scholarships and grants that aim to increase the ranks of minority nurses.

In other news, I also learned about a study which shows that high nurse workloads disproportionately affect older black patients. On the surface, these two pieces of information seem unrelated, or at least seem only superficially related because they both involve race in some way.

Taken together, however, they are striking because they not only illustrate how racial disparities play out in the nursing world, but they show the need for increasing the number of nurses out there.

The nursing workload study calls for more nurses on the floor, and opening up access to nursing education to more candidates will help.

Let's first look at the nursing workload study, which comes out of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. Researchers studied more than 548,000 patients ages 65 and older who underwent general, orthopedic, or vascular surgery in 599 hospitals in California, Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Of the patients, 94% were white and 6% were black.

The data, gleaned from  nearly 30,000 hospital staff nurses working directly in patient care, showed that older black patients are three times more likely than older white patients to suffer poorer outcomes after surgery, including death, when cared for by nurses with higher workloads.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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