Currently, Hispanics make up 18.3 percent of the population, but that number is expected to grow to 28.6 percent by 2060.
According to a 2018 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses (RNs), which surveyed over 50,000 nurses, non-Hispanic whites make up 73.3 percent of RNs, compared to 10.2 percent of Hispanic/Latino RNs, 7.8 percent African Americans, non-Hispanic RNs and 5.2 percent Asian, non-Hispanic RNs.
“Patients like being cared for by someone who looks like us. Whether they speak Spanish or English, if they speak in their native language, they feel more comfortable,” says Norma G. Cuellar, PhD, RN, FAAN, who’s president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN), a non-profit representing 276,000 Hispanic nurses across the United States.
That cultural competency helps patients feel understood.
“If a nurse understands that and the cultural perspective, you have better communication and you have better outcomes,” she says.
The need for a diverse nursing staff is coming to the forefront during the COVID-19 crisis. More Latinx nurses are needed to communicate with patients.
Dr. Cuellar says many hospitals are asking for bilingual nurses now more than ever because they need to communicate with Hispanic patients.
“Our Latino nurses are heroes,” she says. “Not only do they have the nursing issues to deal with, but the cultural competency issues around people that do not speak English that are here in our country. They are overcoming such tragedy.”
Closing the gap
NAHN started in the 1970s to support Hispanic nurses who felt their voices weren’t being heard. In addition to supporting current nurses, they’re also committed to helping the next generation. They offer a grant for nurses that have an associate’s degree and want to advance in a nursing program. So far, 80 Hispanic nurses have enrolled.
Dr. Cuellar, who has a master’s degree, a doctorate of science in nursing, and a post-doctoral fellowship, started her career in coronary care intensive care unit in 1984. She’s practiced in other healthcare settings including home health, incarceration, school health, and long-term care facilities.
She says Latinxs often face social economic barriers that hold them back from becoming nurses. Those barriers can include food, housing and educational instability, as well as a sense that nursing requires too much biology and math. Plus, culturally, she says Hispanic families often don’t support a loved one’s desire to get advanced degrees.
The industry needs to embrace diversity too.
“It has to be represented at all levels. You have to see it,” says Dr. Cuellar, who is white and Hispanic of Mexican heritage. “If you’re a Latino and you come into an institution and you don’t see anything Spanish and you don’t see any Latinos around, you don’t see any Latino nurses or doctors or administrators, you know that that would be a concern.”
She advises Latinos to get their nursing degrees and get certified in their specialty areas. Next, volunteer and serve on committees in their hospital and in the industry.
“Latino nurses cannot just sit back and think that other people are going to get the job done,” says Dr. Cuellar. “There’s just not enough of us. And we need to get out there. And we need to encourage our younger people who may think about wanting to be a nurse, show them what a nurse does. “A nurse is a businesswoman, researcher, an entrepreneur,” she says. “A nurse changes things and makes life better.”