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Herzing Staff

The Urgent Need for Representation: Understanding the Vital Role of Black Nurses in Healthcare

Throughout history and still, to this day, the overall care provided to Black patients is improved when treated by a Black nurse.

From Harriet Tubman playing an essential role in treating troops infected with dysentery and smallpox to Mary Eliza Mahoney being the first licensed Black American nurse, Black nurses have a long history of breaking cultural norms and providing lifesaving care to Americans in need. Throughout history and still, to this day, the overall care provided to Black patients is improved when treated by a Black nurse, as there is a more personal understanding of the patient’s history and the effects of the intersection between race and healthcare. 

However, a significant and alarming gap exists in adequate nurse representation for people of color in America, specifically among Black Americans. Although Black Americans make up 13% of the population, only 7.8% of nurses are Black, highlighting the dire need for more Black nurses in the U.S.

As we celebrate Black Nurses' Week in July, we should all use this as an opportunity to acknowledge the incredible contributions of Black nurses to healthcare and society. Join us as we explore the importance of Black nurses in the U.S., discover the benefits they provide to their communities, and highlight specialties in need of healthcare professionals with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Why is Diversity in Healthcare so Important?

Apart from the notable benefit of being treated by a nurse within your community, having diversity in healthcare holds a much stronger significance. In the United States, Black Americans have been facing an ongoing healthcare crisis as a result of racial disparities, for example:

  • Black women are 3x more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.
  • Following elective surgery, death is 50% higher for Black men than white men. 
  • 56% of Black Americans stated they’ve had at least one or several negative healthcare experiences, including having to speak up for proper care and being treated with less respect than others.

This discouraging reality could be in part attributed to the lack of representation of Black cultural awareness within healthcare textbooks and training, along with a history of mistreatment of Black patients spanning the spectrum from implicit to explicit harassment and treatment. From the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in the 1930s and 40s to current-day providers underestimating a Black woman’s pain or limited access to medical centers in largely Black communities, there’s a clear injustice. While not a singular solution, an increase in Black healthcare providers can be a voice for those most commonly unheard.

Understanding the Unique Contributions of Black Nursing Students

For Black nursing students, you can pave the way for lives to be saved and ensure proper, equal care. You can:

  • Use your understanding of Black culture and community to speak up for your patients.
  • Use what you know to access, and better understand, the needs of your patient.
  • Help comfort your patients through representation.
  • Make a unique difference for your community just by pursuing a passion for nursing.

What Specialties Can You Make an Impact in?

Successful nurses must possess the understanding that healthcare extends beyond physical well-being. It’s about understanding the whole person and your patient’s total journey. If you’re looking to take your medical knowledge and people-first mindset into the nursing field, you can make the biggest impact by entering a specialty that needs diversification. While all nursing roles will help the community, the following specialties typically have a less diverse staff:

  • Dermatology 
  • Surgical 
  • Gynecology
  • Otolaryngology
  • Orthopedics

Let us help you identify the perfect nursing specialty for you. Use our handy Nurse Specialty Quiz, available: here.

If you want to make a difference in your community, Herzing University can help. Click here to learn more about the nursing programs we offer and contact us today to improve healthcare one nurse at a time.

Learn More About Our Nursing Programs


* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2023 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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