This site is intended for health professionals only

What can we do to improve BME representation in nursing?

About once a week I sit down and assess whether the small group of young people in front of me have the attitudes and values expected of a student nurse.

We are in the middle of interviewing for next year’s intake of student nurses. About once a week I sit down and assess whether the small group of young people in front of me have the attitudes and values expected of a student nurse. This is incredibly hard to assess in a 30 minute group interview but we are required to this so we do our best.

Yesterday one small group comprised of a variety of black and minority ethnic (BME) candidates were very cautiously offering their views on how they should approach patient care so I decided to open up the discussion. I am a white, middle-aged, middle class woman so I asked if they thought we all had similar backgrounds and would therefore seek the same care. They looked at me in shock, burst out laughing and suddenly the conversation took off. They were impressive and I really hope they all choose to come to our university.

It got me thinking. When I trained many years ago, although my training hospital served a very diverse ethnic community, the student nurses were predominantly white, middle-class girls like me. Today, the senior roles in nursing seem to be dominated by my sort (admittedly with a disproportionate number of men…but that’s a discussion for another day!) so the voice of nursing is still predominantly white and middle-class even though this isn’t mirrored in the community we serve.

I would like to think that as our society becomes more diverse and inclusive, we will see more BME nurses both in nursing in general and in senior roles but a large proportion of those who come for interview are still white, middle-class girls. In interview groups, the candidates from BME backgrounds stick together as a tiny minority and I see the same pattern in the classroom. There are, of course, some notable exceptions but too often I find the BME students in a tiny huddle towards the back of the classroom.

Some things have changed for the better. Many years ago I was chatting over the fence to my slightly older black neighbour. On learning that I was a student nurse, she told me how she too had applied to train as a nurse but when she turned up for her interview, had been led to another room and found herself being interviewed for a post as a cleaner! I hope those days are well behind us but it doesn’t feel as though we haven’t made enough progress in the subsequent 30 years.

I recognise that my white middle-class background has given me many advantages and enabled me to end up in my current situation where I have some ‘power’ and influence. I want to learn how I can use my influence to improve the situation. Influential publications such as Reni Eddo-Lodge’s ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race’ have helped me gain some understanding of the experience of people from BME backgrounds.

Now how can people like me do more to improve recruitment and career progress in nursing from all backgrounds? All constructive advice welcome!