Exploring the 10 Percent: Why Black Nurses are Imperative

by Konrad Shirley / Oct 10, 2019

The United States is more diverse than ever before. As our society continues to expand in the diversity of its citizens, customs including religion, faith, and health practices demonstrate the impact of increasing cultural pluralism in America. But the exponential growth in the diversity of the general population is not reflected in the health care profession, especially for Black nurses.

The population of nurses has been stagnant for some time, with the vast majority of nursing professionals being white and female (Health Resources and Services Administration, 2017). Similarly, K-12 teachers and college/university professors follow the same pattern of a dearth of educators that are people of color (Boser, 2011; National Center for Education Statistics, 2018). Out of the 3.2 million registered nurses in the country, only 9.9% are African American (Aubray, 2009). It’s clear that the representation of Black professionals in the nursing profession does not mirror the diversity of the U.S. population, which spurs the question: Why does such a polar rift exist within our health care system for Black nurses?

Black nurses are critical for providing Black communities better health care. Compared to their white counterparts, they are more likely to practice in underserved areas that comprise a large percentage of Black families and are more likely to accept patients who are covered by Medicaid (Marrast, 2014). However, improving access to care is only one dimension of how they serve their community—they also have been linked to improving the quality of care that African Americans receive.

It’s no secret that many Black men and women harbor strong feelings of mistrust when it comes to health care. More than one-third of African Americans have reported feeling discriminated against when receiving medical treatment and care (Discrimination in America 2019). Astonishingly, these feelings of apprehension that Black people shoulder regarding health care are justified. Studies have shown African Americans are less likely to get the standard of care that their white counterparts receive in areas such as pain management, asthma treatment, and even getting a simple aspirin in the emergency room (Smedley, 2003).

It is imperative, therefore, that more Black nursing professionals are implemented into America’s health care system. Patients are more likely to utilize preventive care services and report care satisfaction when treated by a health professional who shares his or her own racial or ethnic background (Hernandez-Cancio 2019). Studies such as these illustrate how Black nurses can lessen the gaps in cultural competency, which many of their white coworkers cannot or will not do. Black nursing professionals provide an opportunity for communities of color to receive health care from people who look like and can relate to them.

Diversifying the health care workforce provides an opportunity to destruct the systemic biases and racial inequities that persist in health care."

The generations of mistreatment that Black patients have faced encapsulates America’s need for a health care industry that mirrors the changing population and can address its range of needs. Black nurses increase diversity in the field of health and reduce health disparities, ultimately improving the overall health care for all patients. Diversifying the health care workforce provides an opportunity to destruct the systematic biases and racial inequities that persist in health care.

In order to achieve these goals, Black nurses must understand that the time for action is now. In order to alleviate racial disparities in nursing, Black nurse leaders must take an active role in standing up for their underrepresented peers. They must also take the time to recruit and influence younger generations of African Americans and discuss the biases that exist in health care. Nursing is a career technical education/STEM field that is high skill, high demand, and can generate high wages. However, in many racially minoritized communities there is limited access to health care providers that reflect and affirm the patients served.

To summarize, it is crucial to diversify the pipeline of nursing professionals, particularly registered nurses and nurse practitioners. With greater numbers of Black nurses in the field there is greater likelihood of creating and implementing solutions that advance Blacks in nursing and eliminate the struggle to and access culturally responsive health care. The health of the American nursing profession, in addition to the health of all patients and consumers, depends on the continuous promotion of diverse health care employment, advancement, and education.



Aubray, O. (2009). Experiences of African Americans in nursing education (dissertation) 

Boser, U. (2011). Teacher Diversity Matters: A State-by-State Analysis of Teachers of Color. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.

Discrimination in America: Experiences and views on affects of discrimination across major population groups in the United States. (2019, June 12). New Jersey: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Health Resources and Services Administration (2017, December). Nursing workforce projections by ethnicity and race 2014-2030. Rockville, MD: HRSA.

Hernandez-Cancio, S. I. (2019, June 19). A framework for advancing health equity and value: Policy options for reducing health inequities by transforming health care delivery and payment systems.

Marrast, L. M. (2014, February 1). Minority physicians' role in patient care. JAMA Intern Medicine,.174(2), 289-91.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). The condition of education 2018 (NCES 2018 144), Characteristics of postsecondary faculty. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Smedley, B. D., Stith, A. Y., & Nelson, A. R. (2003). Unequal treatment: confronting racial and ethnic disparities in health care. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.