Want meaningful diversity in your hospital? Promote nurses of color

The spotlight on social determinants of health during the height of COVID-19, public outcry over the death of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement have highlighted the need to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in U.S. hospitals — for employees and patients. 

Tina Loarte-Rodriguez, DNP, associate director of health equity measures at Yale University and Yale New Haven (Conn.) Hospital's Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, called for an overhauled, more transparent system that includes accountability.

"There should be financial benefits for organizations fully committed to improving the experiences and opportunities for historically marginalized nurses," she told Becker's. "And, there should be financial and regulatory consequences for organizations whose culture permits and promotes racism and racist systems."

Nurses of color who spoke with Becker's said they see and feel the pain of racist and discriminatory behavior in the workplace all the time. They all said they would like more white nurses to be allies and call out discriminatory behavior when they see it. 

More than anything else, they said promoting nurses of color to leadership positions would create a diversity improvement strategy from the top down.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Question: What could hospital leaders be doing now to turn DEI intentions into actionable solutions?

Shondra Brown, FNP-BC. Family Nurse Practitioner at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: I think by diversifying administrations of hospitals and nursing schools, it gives people exposure to our issues. But there has to be a safe space declared whenever specific issues of racism are brought to the forefront. People can't feel as if they have a target on their back with their every movement scrutinized. Fragility and centering has to be removed, and that can only be done in safe spaces. 

Promotions have to be altruistic and vetted, because not every Black person is going to serve a Black agenda. Some will go along just to get along, and that's not fostering diversity — it's filling a quota. 

Madeline Feliciano-Weiser, MSN, RN. Nurse Manager at Penn State Health Lancaster (Pa.) Medical Center: Promoting all nurses of color to leadership would help increase diversity in nursing. It may sound cliche, but "you can't be what you don't see" is true for many individuals. 

Nurse leaders are entrusted to drive change. Diversity in leadership leads to diversity in nursing, resulting in a measurable change in diverse representation within the profession. Trust is a cornerstone of our nursing profession, and our communities deserve to trust those who care for them. 

What better way to deliver on that trust than to be cared for by a member of your community who understands your history, culture and language? 

Marilyn Mapp, DNP, RN. Director of Nursing at Jefferson Health New Jersey (Burlington): We do not need any more studies to demonstrate the positive effects of a diversified workforce. Promoting Black nurses to leadership should be a no-brainer. It will move the needle one nurse leader at time; however, this is not enough. We need the push — an acceleration — with support from organizations like DNPs of Color that's focused on mentoring, showing our nurses how to nimbly navigate this space we call healthcare, and speak up so that the needs of Black nurses are addressed.  

Deanna Stewart, DNP, RN. Health Services Manager at Optum Healthcare's Landmark Health (Huntington Beach, Calif.) and Founder of nonprofit MyALLy Stewart Diversity Consulting (Clayton, N.C.): Promoting more Black nurses to leadership moves the needle by allowing a diverse standpoint on healthcare issues, staffing models and organizational culture. I have met many Black nurses in leadership who are innovative, passionate and unconventional. These types of nurses belong in healthcare leadership, as they are the ones who will fight for change and equity among the staff and patients. Getting healthcare leadership where it should be is a slow process, but we are heading in the right direction. 


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