As the U.S. struggles to find solutions to the current nursing shortage, one strategy to address the emerging crisis continues to surface: Nursing schools need to strengthen their efforts to attract more men and minority students. Though nursing schools enroll more diverse students than medical (10.5%) or dental colleges (11%), the overwhelming majority of students in today's baccalaureate nursing programs are female (91%) from non-minority backgrounds (73.5%). Considering the fact that females comprise about 51% of the population and minority group representation is rapidly approaching 33%, today's nursing students do not mirror the nation's population.


Why is it important to attract underrepresented groups into nursing? According to an April 2000 report prepared by the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice, a culturally diverse nursing workforce is essential to meeting the health care needs of the nation's population. Despite their small numbers, minority nurses are significant contributors to the provision of health care services in this country and leaders in the development of models of care that address the unique needs of minority populations. Given the projections for a deepening nursing shortage, the need to attract nontraditional students into nursing and expand the capacity of baccalaureate programs is also gaining in importance.

What are nursing schools doing to recruit men and minority students into their degree programs? Using a combination of traditional marketing methods, targeted outreach campaigns, and strategic planning, schools are rising to meet the challenge of expanding student diversity and eliminating barriers.

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According to the latest National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses (2000) prepared by the federal Division of Nursing within the Bureau of Health Professions (HRSA), only 5.4% of all RNs are men; only 12.3% of RNs represent racial or ethnic minority groups. Though the current percentages are low in comparison to national norms, these figures do represent a slight increase over the previous sample survey which identified 264,000 minority nurses in 1996 compared to over 331,000 minority nurses today.

Studies point to many reasons why men and minority group members do not pursue nursing: role stereotypes, economic barriers, few mentors, gender biases, lack of direction from early authority figures, misunderstanding about the practice of nursing, and increased opportunities in other fields. Compounding the lack of student diversity, and further impacting minority recruitment efforts, is the fact that nursing school deans and faculty also comprise a gender-skewed, racially homogenous group. Men are represented by only 3.5% of faculty and 2.4% of deans; minorities represent only 8.7% of faculty and 6.8% of deans.