by Reggie Fullwood
It is certainly no secret that Dr. Martin Luther King was a champion for civil rights, but most don’t realize that he was passionate about healthcare and how the lack of access to quality medical services affected minority communities.
Dr. King once said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Fast forward to 2019, and while health disparities still exists, the bigger issue facing the health care industry nationally is the lack of nurses. Essentially, people are living longer, and more nurses are needed as baby boomers age.
Between population growth and people living longer there has been a need for more rehabilitation facilities, urgent cares, walk-in medical clinics and outpatient facilities. So, while it is easier than ever to get medical treatment outside of a hospital or doctor’s office, the professionals or nurses to staff those facilities are in short supply.
Sorry racists and bigots, but because of the nation’s changing demographics—population experts predict the U.S. will become a majority “minority” nation by 2050. This fact puts an additional strain on hospital systems and physician practices to hire a more diverse nursing workforce.
Here’s a reality that many may not want to acknowledge. Patients respond better when they receive “culturally competent care” – when caregivers meet the social, cultural and linguistic needs of their patients. It makes sense if you think about it.
My primary care physician is an African American male doctor, and not because I don’t think that a white physician can do a good job, but because I feel more comfortable knowing that he’s an expert in the health issues that are prominent in the black community.
Back in May, we celebrated National Nursing Week, and while more than 4 million registered nurses (RN) celebrated, Florida is still in dire need of more RNs.
Combine Florida with Texas and California, and the three states account for nearly 40 percent of the national nursing shortage. While the absence of a culturally competent healthcare workforce has been recognized as a problem by healthcare professionals for at least the past two decades, there is an opportunity to fix the problem by creating programs that specifically target minority nursing candidates.
If not now – when? According to the Florida Center for Nursing, more than 40 percent of Florida nurses are approaching retirement age in the next 10 years, leaving the state to face a shortage of RNs by 2025. This fact alone is terrifying and enough to cripple the state’s healthcare system.
The need for registered nurses is expected to grow by 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, compared to 7% growth across all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The publication Modern Healthcare, states, “While white women make up more than three-quarters of the nursing workforce, according to the HRSA, there has been some growth in minority trainees at the nation’s nursing schools. Between 2006 and 2015, the proportion of minority students enrolled in bachelor’s degree nursing programs rose from 25% to 32%, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The number of minority students in doctorate nursing degree programs climbed from 19% to 31% in that time.”
So, although there has been growth, there is still a significant lack of African American and minorities nurses.
While the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported a 3.7% enrollment increase in entry-level baccalaureate programs in nursing last year the AACN says that enrollment is not growing fast enough to meet the projected demand for RN and APRN services.
Here the other fundamental problem, there’s just not enough accredited schools to meet the need. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the lack of spots in schools also affects the shortage. In fact, Florida universities report turning away as many two-thirds of applicants seeking a bachelor’s in nursing degree.
In the past, one of the difficulties for minority students was access or acceptance in to nursing programs. Today, there isn’t a shortage of minorities looking to enter the profession, but there are still challenges with access and simply not enough slots to accommodate these students.
So why should anyone care about the state and national nursing shortage? It’s really a quality of care issue and a matter of equality and opportunity for those minorities who want to start careers in healthcare. One thing for sure, health care jobs will only continue to grow, and these careers provide high wages and longevity.
As the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy said, “Healthcare is a right, not a privilege.”
Signing off from Agape Community Health,