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Nursing diversity starts with education

Nursing diversity starts with education
Photo: Nursing diversity starts with education
As the importance of diversity becomes more understood, an increasing number of industries are doing more to ensure they attract a more diverse, and inclusive, workforce.

By the very nature of the role, nursing is a position that requires empathy and an ability to relate to all walks of life, making diversity not only important, but essential.

Dr Jessica Stokes-Parish is a practicing intensive care nurse with a PhD in Medicine.

In addition to more than ten years of bedside nursing, Dr Stokes-Parish’s areas of work include exploring educational design for healthcare professionals, quality improvement science for better patient outcomes and advocating for diversity in the health workforce.

According to Dr Stokes-Parish, diversity matters because it provides different perspectives, ideas and makes nursing practice more inclusive overall.
“Diversity is a blanket term that that can be used to describe the variety of people that make up the population,” she says.

“Typically, when talking about diversity in the workplace, we’re talking about things like ethnic and cultural diversity, diversity of religion, age, disability, and sexuality and gender.

“We should also consider socioeconomic and geographical diversity when it comes to nursing.

“In my view, diversity is about inclusion and belonging – so whatever it is that holds value to the individual is important to foster inclusion and belonging.”

According to Dr Stokes-Parish aside from the broader industry and personal perspectives, from the economic perspective, there’s a clear benefit from having diversity within any workplace.

“New ideas and creative thinking have a dollar benefit,” she says.

“But I’d argue the better benefit is patient satisfaction and care.

“If we have nurses from a variety of backgrounds, then we are better equipped to care for people from a variety of backgrounds.

“Our population is not cookie cutter, and so our nursing workforce should reflect that.”

Increasing diversity starts with education. And while nursing does attract a diverse student base, particularly in relation to gender, retaining those students is of critical importance.

“Nursing largely attracts a diverse student population, and is a fantastic entry point into the university and STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts Maths/Medicine) sector,” says Dr Stokes-Parish.

“In fact, females are overrepresented in the workforce – that’s largely due to the stereotypes of caring and historical aspects of nursing like Florence Nightingale’s ‘moral’ philosophy of nursing.

“Our challenge lies with retaining students in programs and in the workforce.”

Dr Stokes-Parish says universities must take a proactive approach to attracting and retaining a diverse student base.

“To encourage more diversity, there are a couple of things we can do,” she says.

“One, we need to ensure the academic staff reflect the diversity we want to see.

“Are the faculty from diverse cultural backgrounds? How many of the workforce are First Nations people? Are there faculty members with disability?

“We cannot be what we cannot see.”

Secondly, Dr Stokes-Parish says universities need to remove barriers and develop systems that support individuals from diverse backgrounds.

“This might be thinking about how we get more rural students involved.

“Can we offer more flexible training opportunities? How do we support people who use wheelchairs for transport?

“In education, we are frequently looking at ways to expose our students to diverse people, circumstances, and environments.

“Having a diverse student cohort enables us to achieve this more easily.”

Ultimately though, a diverse student-base will produce better results for students themselves, setting them up for a more fulfilling, rewarding and effective career in nursing.

“Being exposed to a variety of people, circumstances and environments can help students develop greater empathy and understanding for those that are not like them.

“We need to actively develop these skills to ensure our students and nurses don’t discriminate in the care they provide.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.