contributions of Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton as nurses. Some may even learn about Virginia Henderson – and especially if interested in a futurenursing career. However, far fewer K-12 students learn about the unique contributions of Black nurses. This matters because cultural competence among nurses is linked to acquiring the trust and engagement of “minority” patient populations in order to boost their overall health status.
The following describes disparities experienced in the nursing field by Black nurses, as well the particular contributions of three influential Black nurses in history.
Diversity in the Nursing Workforce as a National Nursing Issue
An article in Public Health Reports noted that minority nurses remain highly underrepresented at only 16.8 percent of the entire Registered Nurse (RN) workforce. Additionally reported in this article is that only 5.4 percent of RNs are African American. Meanwhile, the authors of an article in Health Affairs suggested the following as the four primary reasons why increased diversity in the nursing workforce is important:
- Link to increasing access to high-quality health services;
- Link to advancing cultural competency across the healthcare workforce;
- Link to strengthening the medical (and nursing) healthcare research agenda;
- Link to ensuring optimal management of the healthcare system
Discrimination Experienced by Black Nursing Students and Licensed Nurses
African Americans were mostly barred from nursing schools in the southern states and faced race-based quotas in the northern states during the first half of the twentieth century, as described in the Online Journal of Nursing (OJIN) in 2019. Presently, a two-year nursing degree is still more often the path to becoming a RN for a non-white resident of the US than a white resident. One primary reason is the higher cost of attending a four-year college of nursing. The lack of awareness of discrimination in nursing schools toward Black students promotes a more hostile learning environment for African American nursing students (and nurses) to this day.
Consequently, more African American nurses work for significantly less pay than white nurses. In addition, African American nurses are less likely to be found in supervisory positions. Addressing the resultant limited career ladder for African American nurses and pay gap are two of the goals of the National Black Nurses Association – besides enabling Black nurses to more easily share their experiences and insights with each other.
Three Influential Black Nurses
Sojourner Truth was a nurse during her enslavement to her owners’ family members, and also to Union soldiers during the Civil War. Besides her abolitionist and suffragette activism, she advocated frequently before Congress for nursing education.
In 1878, Mary Eliza Mahoney – who lived in Boston – was admitted to one of the first integrated nursing programs in the US. She was one of only four of the 42 enrolled students to complete this nursing program, and the only African American student (of the four African Americans admitted to the program) to actually graduate. One of her accomplishments that led to enabling better opportunities for African American nurses was the co-founding of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN).
Betty Smith Williams became the first African American woman to teach at a higher education institution in California, and was a co-founder of the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) in 1971 (serving as NBNA president from 1995-1999).
These are just a few of the many Black nurses who have been influential not only in combatting the inequities faced by Black nurses in the US, but in improving the nursing care received by Black patients.
Call to Action
Increasing cultural competence is vital for nurses to provide better overall nursing care. By browsing the philanthropic website of Darebs.com at: www.darebs.com to purchase one of the offered products (such as a tee-shirt), a portion of the paid amount will be contributed to the cause associated with the product. As an example, you can own the SuperNurse shirt today and the purchase will donate 10% to the National Black Nurses Association.