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August 22, 2018 (Cleveland)

LPNs Crucial to Nursing Workforce Diversity

Healthcare workforce diversity – and especially nursing workforce diversity – is on the minds of those in the position to make a difference, from healthcare organization chief executive officers and university deans to human resources recruiters and college admissions professionals. They understand the importance of a healthcare workforce that is representative of the overall population.

A diverse healthcare workforce can help provide culturally competent care, a key factor in addressing healthcare disparities, and can improve access to care for minorities and underserved populations because individuals from non-White racial and ethnic groups are more likely to practice in underserved communities and offer to care for Medicaid patients.

Because nurses make up the largest part of the healthcare workforce, it is particularly important they reflect the diversity of the people they care for. Not only can boosting nursing workforce diversity contribute to improved care for minorities, attracting a diverse population to nursing is also important when it comes to maintaining a supply of nurses adequate for meeting rising patient demand and replacing an aging nursing workforce.

Nursing schools are making some progress in educating more minority nurses. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), between 2006 and 2015, the percentage of students pursuing a bachelor's degree in nursing who came from minority backgrounds rose from 25 percent to 32 percent. For those pursuing a doctorate, the number increased from 19 percent to 31 percent.


In Ohio, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) play an important role in fostering nursing workforce diversity. An analysis of LPN licensure data found that for all of the counties identified in 2014 with significant racial and ethnic minority populations, the proportion of LPNs with a racial or ethnic minority background increased notably from 2014 to 2016. Statewide, the proportion of Black LPNs increased from 14.2 percent to 16.2 percent from 2014 to 2016, and that of Hispanic/Latino LPNs increased slightly from 1.2 to 1.4 percent.

The data show that diversity is increasing most notably among the youngest cohorts of nurses. As these nurses age, the overall workforce will become more diverse. Only 15 percent of nurses over age 45 are of a racial or ethnic minority, compared to 25 percent of nurses ages 25 to 35. From 2014 to 2016, the proportion of Non-White LPNs grew by more than 20 percent among those ages 18 to 22 and by more than 18 percent among those ages 23 to 25.

LPNs Crucial to Nursing Workforce Diversity

The level of diversity among LPNs is not duplicated among registered nurses (RNs). Overall, 12.7 percent of the state of Ohio’s population is Black, compared to 16.2 percent of the LPN workforce and only 5.1 percent of the RN workforce.

LPNs Crucial to Nursing Workforce Diversity

Yet, without LPNs as an entry point to the profession, the diversity of the RN workforce could suffer even more. Black and Hispanic/Latino LPNs are more likely than White LPNs to report they are currently enrolled and working on obtaining their RN. Fewer than 10 percent of White LPNs are currently enrolled to obtain their RN, compared to almost 22 percent of Black and more than 15 percent of Hispanic/Latino LPNs.

LPNs Crucial to Nursing Workforce Diversity

Given the importance of LPNs to nursing workforce diversity, it is disappointing to find that the LPN workforce in the state is shrinking. Between 2014 and 2016, the number of LPNs licensed by the Ohio Board of Nursing fell 8.1 percent. The largest decrease in LPNs was among nurses ages 35 and younger.

The overall trend of a reduction of the number of LPNs in Ohio may hinder efforts to build a strong racial and ethnicity minority representation in other healthcare occupations. While the proportion of minority LPNs may be growing, if the number of minority LPNs decreases because the overall number of LPNs is declining, the ability to grow the ranks of minority RNs will likely suffer.

For more on nursing workforce diversity, contact us.