This month, our nation recognizes Black History Month. Its origins date back nearly 100 years to when Dr. Carter G. Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), established Negro History Week during the second week of February. It was later expanded, in 1976, officially designating the entire month of February as Black History Month. Each year the ASALH chooses a different theme, and this year honors Black Health & Wellness.

To further explore this topic, I have invited my colleague, Vivienne Pierce McDaniel, DNP, MSN, RN, a professor of nursing and academic diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant for Sentinel U®, to take over this month’s blog. Dr. McDaniel offers a depth of knowledge and experience curated during her tenure in various nursing administrative, clinical, and academic roles, as well as her personal connection to the civil rights movement.

It is my privilege to address the importance of promoting diversity and cultural awareness within the nursing profession and nursing education, in particular. This is a cause that strikes a personal chord with me, not only as a person of color but because of my family’s connection to the civil rights movement.

The Civil Rights Movement a Photographic History, 1954-68

Rev. Curtis Harris (far left) marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (center) and Congressman John Lewis (far right) from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. Source: “The Civil Rights Movement a Photographic History, 1954-68”

My mother’s first cousin, Rev. Curtis Harris, was a civil rights activist who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Congressman John Lewis from Selma to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery in Alabama. I promised “Uncle” Curtis that I would carry the justice torch and never let it burn out until all underestimated, underrepresented, and underserved people in America were embraced for their diversity and treated equitably.

Immersing myself into diversity, equity and inclusion allows me to keep that promise. In nursing, I want to ensure the door that Mary Eliza Mahoney opened in 1879 would never be closed to Black or Brown people who aspired to become nurses.

Despite her accomplishment, minorities are highly underrepresented in nursing. According to a diversity report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), nurses from minority backgrounds represent just 19.2% of the RN workforce, of which only 6.2% are Black. It also stated that a diverse nursing workforce is essential for progress towards achieving health equity in the United States.

Today, this is more important than ever. The disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on the African American community has drawn attention to healthcare inequity in this country. When an organization such as the National Academy of Medicine makes a conscious effort to delay the release of the Future of Nursing 2020-2030 Report: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity to include recommendations on how nurse leaders can play an important role in acknowledging the history of racism within the profession and health care, and help mitigate the effects of discrimination and implicit bias on health, it is HUGE.

This is where simulation, as a key element of nursing education, comes into play. Because there is an urgent need for more diversity in the nursing workforce to match the increasingly diverse population they serve, there is a need for institutions and hospitals to use simulation products that represent these populations. There is also a need to develop simulations that use immersive experiences from various cultures, while ensuring they do not use negative stereotypes and biases during the development process. Furthermore, it is vital that the subject matter experts and other contributors are not simply from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, but bring with them diversity of thought, cultural sensitivity and implicit bias training.

It is imperative that nursing students experience patients from various races and ethnicities to hone their cultural humility and sensitivity awareness skills. Virtual simulation can help expose nursing students to a diverse population of people and situations. These products can also be used to make students aware of conditions and disparities that impact African Americans more than others. An example would be the high incidence of maternal deaths in Black women or thinking that a patient in sickle cell crisis is “drug seeking.” Nursing students must learn to keep the patient at the center, and not rely on something they read in a textbook that may include stereotypes and biases.

Dr. Vivienne Pierce McDaniel with civil rights leader Rev. Curtis Harris.

Dr. McDaniel with her “uncle,” civil rights leader Rev. Curtis Harris. Photo taken by Ruth Harris

I am honored and inspired by nursing pioneers – such as Dr. Vernell DeWitty, Dr. Ernest Grant, Dr. Beverly Malone and Dr. Martha Dawson – who have played an instrumental role in changing nursing’s perspective on people of color and emerging nurse leaders such as Dr. Danielle McCamey.

Black History Month is the perfect time to acknowledge the work that has been done to call out the racial injustices and inequities that exist within our healthcare system and focus on what we can do to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion in the nursing profession.

Thank you, Dr. McDaniel, for enlightening us on this critical issue. All of us at Sentinel U are committed to promoting racial equity in nursing education and healthcare. Our simulation scenarios are meticulously created to expose learners to a diverse set of patients and presenting symptoms in order to ensure future nurses are prepared to deliver equitable healthcare confidently and competently.