Health inequities are systematic differences in the health status across various social groups and their access and achievement of optimal health, which unfortunately is often the root cause of unfair and avoidable disparities in health outcomes. The dimensions of social identity and location that organize or “structure” differential access to opportunities for health include race and ethnicity, gender, employment and socioeconomic status, disability and immigration status, geography, and more.
While health inequities have been around long before Covid-19, the pandemic brought this evolving issue to light as certain demographics were impacted more than others. To overcome this challenge, patients often look to their nurses and doctors for support, guidance and solution. Having staff that represent the affected population can help provide additional comfort and understanding for what the patient is going through.
A diverse workforce brings diversity to the organization and helps communicate with their patient population, overcoming potential language barriers and heightening cultural awareness. This includes how a person needs to be communicated with or even how they respond and what that may mean. A culture that embraces diversity of staff can result in sustained care to patients in their native language and understanding that could otherwise be lost. The nurse can work with the healthcare team in identifying resources that are more relevant and better fitted to assist the patient as they are cared for or discharged, ensuring improved outcomes.
Nurses are on the front line and face healthcare equity situations daily. In their role, they advocate for policies, care and social justice to protect all patients, especially the most vulnerable. Skill exhibited by the nurses are crucial, but almost equally as important is communication. Whether admitting or discharging patients or assisting in care planning, the nurse works on their patient’s behalf to meet all their needs.
When admitting a patient, nurses gather valuable insights about the person they are working with – everything from basic information which allows them to provide the best care possible to how the patient will respond to treatment and news, as well as the way they wish to receive information and care. This communication will remain important throughout their time with the nurse and healthcare system and needs to continue once they are in the community, still receiving care.
To continue making a difference nurses may consider involvement on committees for change within their own healthcare organization or volunteer to serve in their community to bring and provide healthcare services to those who need it most.
Cathy Vollmer, RN, BSN, CSP, is Vice President of Operations at Conexus MedStaff.