Black representation in the nursing industry

Black nurses are a critical part of the nursing industry. While the US census reports the population as 13.4% Black, this is not reflected in the health care industry. The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey found that only 6% of the RN workforce identify as Black. This lack of representation in the industry reflects systemic issues with diversity in medicine. America’s overall health and clinical professions depend on the continuous promotion of diversity in education, career growth, and employment.

Looking back at history

While there is a long history of injustice in American healthcare systems, there is also a long history of courageous Black nurses fighting these injustices. Throughout the 19th-century nurses like Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first Black professional nurse, and Estelle Massey Riddle Osborne, the first Black nurse to earn a nursing education master’s degree, have pioneered change for today’s nurses.

Diversity data

  • Only 36% of active physicians are female according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
  • Only 5% of physicians identify as Black or African American.
  • Only 6% of physicians identify as Hispanic.

Diversity in medicine is crucial to providing quality care for patients. The United States is more diverse than it has ever been, however that reality is not reflected in the medical industry. Increased representation in healthcare can lead to increased comfort levels, trust, creativity, communication, and enhanced understanding with reduced health disparities. Over 1/3 of Black patients have reported feeling discriminated against during their medical treatment. When a patient receives care from someone from their own racial or ethnic background they are more likely to utilize preventive care according to the publication of the Institute of Medicine’s Unequal Treatment report. This is why it is imperative that more of America’s health care system includes Black nursing professionals.

How can the healthcare industry increase cultural diversity?

Nursing education

An important factor in creating a more diverse healthcare industry is increasing diversity in healthcare education. An AACN annual survey data revealed that only approximately 11% of graduates in baccalaureate nursing programs identified as Black/African American individuals. Additionally, the national center for education statistics found that only 40% of Black college students graduated from a four-year program within the first six years of enrollment compared to 74% of Asian students, 64% of white students, and 55% of Hispanic students. This lack of diversity not only exists within the student body but also in the educators. in 2019, the AAMC found that only 3.6% of medical school faculty are Black or African American.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has outlined plans to enhance diversity and launched the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Group in 2018 to provide guidance to schools on how to increase diversity in their programs. This group works with schools, academic nursing groups, and the nursing workforce to create networking events, forums, and mentorship programs addressing diversity opportunities. The AACN also offers assistance to schools seeking diversity-based funding such as the Nursing Workforce Diversity program, the All of Us Research program, or the Nursing Workforce Diversity Grants.

The workplace

Promoting diversity can be implemented throughout the people and styles of hiring, management, scheduling, communication, and social environments of your workplace. It is also important to make patient-facing adaptions like changing clinic hours to increase patient access, providing information about different payment options, or making service adjustments to meet the needs of your local patient community.


Luckily there are organizations that are working towards a brighter future for nursing. Here is a list of organizations focused on changing the medical industry into a more welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone.

Society of Black Academic Surgeons

The Society of Black Academic Surgeons was founded in 1989 to address underrepresented minority surgeons in the US. The org offers mentorship and community for diverse surgeons in the field.

National Black Nurses Association

Formed in 1971, the National Black Nurses Association works to educate children about nursing and other health care disciplines, offers scholarships, and provides mentorship programs.

Project Diversify Medicine

Starting in 2015, Project Diversify Medicine has been a space for Black doctors to have conversations about their experiences. The org’s social media platform helps underrepresented doctors get into medical school.

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Black representation in the medical field is more important than ever. Over the past two years, we have seen how the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted Black Americans. Better health care for the Black community is crucial and committing to promoting diversity in health care providers has never been more relevant. With more Black nurses in the field, the industry can better address and implement solutions to advance diversity. As we celebrate Black History Month let’s think about how to fight racism in medicine and address the lack of representation in the medical field.


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