The need for a more diverse health care workforce is great — and not only to ensure that the most skilled personnel provide the highest quality care, no matter their background. Communities of color have had decades of mistrust from the health care system, which may often lead to poorer outcomes.
Greater diversity among health care professionals is a critical step to caring for an increasingly diverse patient population, as it may help improve communication and the overall patient experience. For example, if a patient has previously felt bias with a provider in a clinical setting, there could be less trust to open up about chronic conditions or other health concerns. Having a workforce that reflects the people being served may be a step towards systemic change.
In order to help address this need, UnitedHealthcare provided 10 scholarships to Hampton University, a historically black college in Virginia, for students interested in a career of nursing. By supporting these nursing students, UnitedHealthcare is helping to promote a 21st century workforce that can help provide culturally competent care and reduce health disparities based on race.
Overall, UnitedHealthcare and UnitedHealth Group have provided more than $23 million to diverse college students pursuing a health care career.
“We consciously work to remove barriers that have disproportionately prevented certain population groups from achieving their full health potential,” said Tameeka Smith, CEO of the UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Virginia. “Improving the ability of racial and ethnic minorities to seek care and be treated by providers of their race or ethnicity is an example of that. Helping nursing students matriculate during a pandemic is an example of the investments we make in securing more diverse options for our members as they work with clinicians to improve their health.”
Currently, the makeup of many health care professions has not kept pace with demographic changes in the country at large. For example, only 23% of Blacks and 26% of Hispanics have a physician that shares their race or ethnicity, compared to 82% of whites. What’s more, investment in training and education for diverse students in the health care field and beyond is often lacking — nationally, $5 billion less is spent per year educating students of color compared to white students.
“We appreciate this investment in our students,” said Dr. Shevellanie Lott, dean of the school of nursing for Hampton University. “The COVID-19 pandemic has so negatively impacted our students and this support to assist them with their financial needs is truly heartwarming.”
With higher rates of chronic diseases, like diabetes, within these diverse populations, it can be important for health care workers, like nurses, to be responsive to the needs of underserved communities — as they are often the first point of contact during a person’s health experience.
Achieving health equity – meeting the needs of all patients, regardless of their background – can come in many different forms. Establishing greater educational opportunities for nurses from diverse backgrounds is one way to help ensure a health care system that works better for everyone.