Minding the Gap: Nursing and Healthcare Disparities

By: Jennifer Chaikin, RN-BC, MSN, MHA, CCRN Executive Director of Educational Initiatives, Nurse.com
Jennifer Chaikin, RN

Jennifer Chaikin, RN

How important is cultural competency to nursing and how does this connect with healthcare rights? Can you answer this question? If you’re not sure, rest assured, you’re not the only one.

Cultural and diversity education is weaved in to our annual training, written about in our professional journals, and now a part of our formal nursing curriculum. We learn about various cultures, ensure our patients have the appropriate translators and clergy, and we provide respect for all – regardless of race, culture or creed. But I don’t believe we focus on the issues these diverse cultures face about their healthcare rights and ultimately, the care they receive.

Have you ever cared for a patient who you knew did not seek medical attention when he or she needed it? Did you ask them why? Typically, their reason is related to one or more disparities.

What are disparities in healthcare? According to NIH, these are the “differences in access to the availability of facilities and services.”

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), examples of disparity include:

  • African Americans have a much higher risk of dying from cancer in the United States.
  • Those over age 65 have worse access to healthcare than those ages 18 to 44 years.

There’s a direct relationship with delivering quality healthcare and understanding disparities. Nursing must pay much more attention to the inequalities that exist when obtaining healthcare in the first place. This is how we can help our patients the most. Unfortunately, this aspect of cultural competence is not part of the annual mandated training mandated — but it should be.

Experts will admit that overall quality care, including access and treatment, is slowly improving. This is due to educational initiatives and nurses becoming involved in the spiritual side of cultural care and understanding that the key to preventing disparity is acknowledging each patient and educating others.

So even if your annual training does not include this aspect of cultural care, educate yourself in it. Nurses are changing the way healthcare is delivered in this country and we will ensure, as we always have, that our patients’ rights come first.

Want to make a difference and lessen the disparity gap? Attend our FREE educational initiative — partnering with LiveSTRONG — on these gaps as they relate to those fighting cancer.


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