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Raising awareness about health disparities: A call to action

By: By Connie B. Bishop, DNP, MBA, BC-NI, and Tiffany Morris, DNP, MSN, CNE

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised consciousness about health disparities, institutional racism, and diversity, inclusion, and equity (DEI) in the nation. Nurses know these conditions exist, but typically conversations on these concepts have mostly included persons in academic settings and healthcare researchers. The lay public is not often conversant about these topics.

For more than a decade and a half, Gallup polling has indicated that nursing is the most trusted of all professions. Nurses embrace cultural competency and declare without reservation that healthcare is a human right. Our profession believes in caring for the person—body, mind, and spirit.

The pandemic has demonstrated an urgent need for schools of nursing (SONs) at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to leverage our minority perspective and help educate and advocate for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) populations and other disenfranchised people.

We believe that HBCU SONs are at an advantage when it comes to raising awareness and initiating research, education, and implementation strategies to address health disparities because our students, faculty, and staff have a lived experience with these disparities. This lived experience will help motivate students and faculty to engage in this positive change.

Sobering numbers

According to March 2021 data from the CDC, of persons diagnosed with COVID-19 in the United States, 21.1% were Hispanic/Latino, and 12.2% were Black, non-Hispanic. Of reported deaths from COVID-19, 14.6% have occurred in Black, non-Hispanic persons and 12.2% in Hispanic/Latino persons; these percentages far exceed the proportion of Black, non-Hispanic, and Hispanic/Latino people in the general U.S. population.

When HBCUs are effectively deployed to address health disparities and health outcomes, it increases the visibility of minority healthcare providers in the community. One way to decrease this gap in health disparities of care is to leverage HBCU SONs to educate and advocate for BIPOCs.

Health information about COVID-19 and other widespread conditions is primarily disseminated through the CDC, healthcare organizations, and social media. Unfortunately, these sources sometimes do not offer a culturally conscious approach and the latter may spread untruth or misinformation. HBCU SONs enjoy the “most trusted” status in America for their graduates and, by extension, to their students.

Leveraging our influence

How can HBCU SONs leverage our influence? Nursing and healthcare professions faculty can begin by educating students in the classroom through population health projects in courses such as “healthcare in a global society” and incorporating these concepts into clinical courses. Helping students become aware of how healthcare disparities impact their community can foster their sense of responsibility and care for that community.

Another opportunity for HBCU SONs to leverage influence is by sponsoring interdisciplinary, population-specific health fairs or other community outreach events targeting health conditions that disproportionately affect BIPOCs.

But these efforts are not enough.

Where to from here? A call to action

As nursing educators, prepping students solely for National Council Licensure Examination is not enough. We believe we must not ignore what our students and others experience in the real world of health disparity. We must use their lived knowledge as an advantage for intentional health disparity education, which must then be incorporated into and across the healthcare and nursing curricula.

It’s time for HBCU programs and other healthcare disciplines to include healthcare disparities at the top of the agenda in program curricula as well as in clinical learning. We acknowledge that health disparities in education have been a part of HBCU nursing curricula, and we encourage more intentionality and commitment to be placed on BIPOC nurses’ and ALL disciplines’ roles in combating health disparities in their local communities.

So how do we accomplish this? We recommend the following:

  • Encourage strengthening of HBCU SONs and other healthcare disciplinary partnerships with clinical agencies, health systems, health departments, and faith-based communities to establish robust, on-going working relationships with BIPOC communities.
  • Engage early in advocacy, establish long-term partnerships, and recognize the distinct and powerful advantages of HBCU SONs to drive change and support positive change. 

An opportunity

The approach must be intentional, although specific means may vary in addressing health disparities across HBCU Schools of Nursing. Failure to positively and effectively engage our students is not acceptable in combating health disparities.

How do we include students in decision-making efforts? During this global pandemic, we must leverage our knowledge because it’s crucial that we advocate for and “look like” the people we serve. By proactively and positively addressing health disparities, we have a great opportunity. HBCU Schools of Nursing have the advantage, and it is past time to leverage that advantage to improve the health of BIPOC by proactively addressing health disparities.

1, 2, 3: Act Now!

1. Grab a seat at the table and join local, state, and national organizations to lobby and advocate for BIPOC. Faculty and students can become members of their local, state, and national organizations (for example, university committees, NCNA, ANA, NLN).

— Shirley Chisholm: If you don’t have a seat at the table, “grab a chair and pull it up.”

2. Increase awareness by engaging faculty and students in a discussion about health disparities. Ask students and faculty about experiences with health disparities.

3. Build trust with BIPOC by partnering with local churches, YMCA, and other organizations to schedule free health fair events in the BIPOC community.

Connie B. Bishop is President/CEO of CBB & Associates in Gibsonville, North Carolina. Tiffany Morris is the Inaugural Chair in the department of nursing, school of health sciences, at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina.


American Nurses Association. Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements. 2015. nursingworld.org/coe-view-only/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. March 2021. covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#demographics

Gallup. Gallup 2020: America trusts the most trusted profession more than ever. January 1, 2021. dailynurse.com/gallup-2020-america-trusts-the-most-trusted-profession-more-than-ever/

The views and opinions expressed by Perspectives contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.

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