Bridging the Gap Series : July 2022

Bridging the Gap: Innovations in Nursing to Address Disparities

Introduction by Vice Chancellor Steve Goldstein

In this installment of the Bridging the Gap series, Associate Professor of Nursing Miriam Bender  discusses the critical role of nurses in addressing healthcare inequities. While all UCI providers are dedicated to improving care for marginalized and disadvantaged people who so often have poorer outcomes, nurses play a special role because of their close relationship with the patient. As Bender highlights, nurses are frequently the strongest advocates for their patients. 

Bender introduces a term for a core tenet of exceptional healthcare: cultural humility. Cultural humility is the practice of self-reflection on how one’s background, and the background of others, impacts care, teaching, learning, research, and community engagement.

UCI Health Affairs is allegiant to a Discover. Teach. Heal. mission, and doing them all with cultural humility is critical to our ongoing success. For example, we are dedicated to educating students who reflect the diversity of the nation so the future healthcare workforce cares for patients with enhanced understanding and capacity. UCI students and healthcare professionals work in the community and are of the community.

Cultural humility is a natural fit for the unique philosophical approach of nursing at UCI – indeed, the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing is the academic thought leader in nursing philosophy. UCI trainees master hard science and cutting-edge practices so they can operate at the top of their licenses. They become extraordinary providers because we also teach them to exercise the self-reflection and empathy that underlie cultural humility. 

The Role of Nurses in Addressing Health Disparities

By Miriam Bender, Associate Professor, UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing

Professor Miriam Bender

Healthcare should be equally accessible to all, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, and other factors. Unfortunately, statistics show that minority groups are more likely to experience significant health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes and die from these conditions. Across the nation, there is a great effort to better understand and address health disparities to promote health equity. Nurses have always been at the forefront of making meaningful changes toward health equity and play a crucial role in understanding, identifying, and responding to barriers that prevent people from having the opportunity to be as healthy as possible.

One of the ways UCI Nursing is moving the needle forward on nursing innovation is by generating much-needed evidence on nursing care delivery. For example, one UCI faculty’s empirical nursing research programs explore the best ways to organize nursing in the hospital setting to impact patient care and outcomes. The team is currently implementing these findings and best practices at UC Irvine Hospital – a truly cutting-edge program.

UCI nursing faculty are tapping into the digital frontier and leveraging mobile technologies to offer stress management strategies and nursing-engaged AI to provide physical activity recommendations to patients who suffer from chronic conditions. UCI nursing faculty are also utilizing wearable technology to address disparities in older adults and providing in-person hands-on education to elders to get them comfortable with using digital home monitoring tools. The digital tools play hand-in-hand with moving the needle forward on cultural humility and caring with compassion. Nursing students at UCI train to be reflective listeners and seek trust with patients to integrate technology into patient care.

UCI’s Center for Nursing Philosophy serves as a convening arm for nurses in the United States and worldwide to engage in health discourse and share the latest scholarship on nursing philosophy. UCI’s Center for Nursing Philosophy is the only academic organized nursing philosophy entity in the United States, filling a much-needed void. The goal of the Center for Nursing Philosophy is to lead the advancement of forward thinking about health and healthcare by supporting scholarly collaboration, publication, and dissemination. By engaging universities, scholars, and institutions worldwide at the upcoming 25th International Philosophy Conference, this forum will serve as an opportunity to cross-pollinate ideas and implementation strategies for addressing health disparities and furthering equitable care across the nursing spectrum.  

UCI Nursing is also implementing a community-engaged approach to ensure the needs of diverse and minority populations are included to provide the highest level of cultural humility. Diversity in nursing also ensures variety in language and cultural awareness. Nurses who can provide care in their patient’s native language or suggest appropriate resources help fill the gap for better health literacy and access to care. One of the most powerful things nurses can do to reduce health disparities is to advocate for their patients. This may include advocating for patient rights, appropriate resources, interpreters, distress screening, or even cultural-competence training.

Nurses can better address preventable health issues by considering social and environmental factors. Nurses with diverse backgrounds are more sensitive to these factors. Multiple studies have shown that racial and ethnic minority nurses are more likely to work in underserved areas, providing healthcare to those who experience health disparities.

Health disparities are not new, but there has been progress in righting this inequality. As our nation becomes increasingly diverse, it is important to identify health disparities and take steps to reduce and ultimately eliminate them. UCI nurses are leading the way in building healthy communities and improving health where it matters, often starting in their neighborhoods and workplaces to bring about sustainable change. 

Category: Digital Publications