Failures of equity in nursing  

Abonti Nur Ahmed
March 24, 2022
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

C/O Jessica Yang

How nursing fails to accept and equip a diverse range of students 

In Canada, healthcare is a highly selective field to pursue. Unfortunately, within such a selective process of selecting students, the student body is not fully representative of the population it’s supposed to help. 

Tsinat Semagn, the president of the Canadian Black Nurses Alliance McMaster, shared how the small number of Black students present within her nursing cohort at McMaster leads her and her Black friends to become hyper-aware that they are among the only Black students in the program. 

“The number of Black students in the McMaster site in my year is four out of 120 students, which is 3.3 per cent. This is the total number of students who were enrolled in the basic four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in 2019,” 

Tsinat Semagn

Nursing students participate in care scenarios three to five times per semester depending on their classes. Yet, within her three years as a nursing student, Semagn said that only once was a Black person used for these kinds of case studies. 

“A lot of these scenarios are white people. There are a few Indigenous people but you rarely see diversity. There are very, very few Black patients represented in these care scenarios. I think I can only remember one time where we actually had a scenario, in my entire three years and we do three to five per semester, every semester . . . A week ago I did my first Black patient,” said Semagn. 

Over a long span of time, these disparities in learning can lead to disparities in the healthcare provided to Black patients. 

“In healthcare, there are studies that show that white physicians and healthcare professionals have this perception of Black patients, that Black people are stronger [and] don’t experience pain the way that other races do. So that of course affects their care,” said Semagn.  

Within the health sciences program, to encourage equitable admissions, McMaster created the Equitable Admissions for Black Applicants process. It allows for self-identifying Black students to have their applications processed by a panel of Black faculty members, alumni and students. This came to be implemented because the faculty of health sciences noticed that black students were underrepresented in the program.  

However, an admissions process like the EABA is not offered to nursing students. Moreover, nursing is one of the only faculty of health science programs that do not have a supplemental application.  

“On top of [grades and the CASPR test], having a supplementary application where we are talking about life experience and bringing more of us and what we have to offer . . . being able to articulate that as a written [component] would be beneficial. They can see that this person has a lot to offer,” said Semagn. 

Semagn noted that McMaster doesn’t promote a lack of diversity on campus. Instead, the university only mentions there are ways in which they can improve and allow for a more diverse atmosphere. 

“I don’t know if I could say that I feel like McMaster as a whole is adding to [racial biases in the education system]. But I do know that there are some things that they are not doing — that they should be doing — to promote diversity,” said Semagn. 

Programs like nursing at McMaster serve as an example where Black students are disproportionately underrepresented. In a field where lived experience affects patient care, lack of diversity fails to prepare them for the populations that they will meet in the future. It is up to universities, to decide to listen to the students and patients around them to better the systems they have created. 

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