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Nurses are lifelines for mothers-to-be, helping recognize complications early during labor and delivery.
Maternal health for Latinas could improve even further with a more diverse nurse workforce, according to a new study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Researchers found that Latinas who gave birth in states with the highest proportion of minority nurses experienced a 31% reduced risk of severe adverse maternal health outcomes, including eclampsia, blood transfusion, hysterectomy, or intensive care unit admission.
Why might this be? Researchers believe that if the nurse workforce more closely resembled the diversity of patients, there could be a reduction in provider implicit bias, or subconscious preferences for white patients over those of color.
“A racially diverse nurse workforce may help to reduce provider implicit bias and enhance communications and trust between patients and clinicians,” Dr. Guohua Li, professor of epidemiology and anesthesiology at Columbia University, and senior study author, said in a press release. “Our study provides robust evidence to support the recommendation to diversify the healthcare workforce as a strategy for addressing racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes.”
The results of the study are particularly relevant now, as maternal mortality for women of color has increased dramatically in recent years.
Latinas, who had a comparable maternal mortality rate to White women prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (2007-2016), have suffered an alarming 74.2% rise in maternal mortality since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.
The same study found that Black women also experienced a disproportionate rise in maternal deaths (40.2%) since the beginning of the pandemic. In comparison, white women’s maternal mortality rate rose just 17.2% during the same time.
The Importance of Diversity in Maternal Healthcare
Given the alarming status of maternal health in the US, a diverse nurse workforce is vital to ensure the health and safety of all women and children.
However, studies show that a diverse healthcare workforce benefits patient health outcomes in many additional areas, including cancer treatment.
“There are tons of studies saying that patients do better and are more willing to listen to healthcare advice from someone who reflects their values, sense of self, and culture,” Sheldon D. Fields, inaugural associate dean for equity and inclusion at Penn State University College of Nursing, told U.S. News & World Report.
Despite the growing evidence in favor of diversity, Latinos represent just 5.3% of the registered nurse workforce, even though the Latino population has risen to a record-high of 18.9% of the US population.
Why are Minorities Underrepresented in Nursing?
The reason for this issue is multi-faceted, and begins with generations of minorities, including Latinos, facing an array of inequities, such as systemic racism, discrimination, lack of financial resources, and ability to afford basic needs like food and housing.
Additionally, Latino students face barriers to the quality education needed to pursue nursing beginning at the K-12 level.
Support for Minority Nurses
Diversifying our nurse workforce is critical for improving health outcomes in all patients, especially those giving birth.
Organizations like the American Nursing Association, National Black Nurses Association, and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing are already taking action to increase diversity among nurses.
Universities across the nation are also coming together to help increase Latino college graduation rates.
And nurses, such as Fields, are visiting elementary schools to teach kids about what nursing is and how to get the education to do it.
You can help support a more diverse and equitable community, too.
Select your county and get a Health Equity Report Card by Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.
In your report card, you will see maps, data, and gauges to compare health equity issues, including education access, to the rest of your state and nation.
You can email your Health Equity Report Card to local leaders to stimulate community change. Use the data in your materials or share on social media to raise awareness.