Arihanna Venable enjoys talking with her patients as she performs physical exams, takes their blood pressure and, sometimes administers medicine to help soothe wounds or illnesses.
However, when Venable looks at so many other registered nurses, she finds a glaring and often troubling trend.
“Not many of them look like me,” said Venable, 33, of Southeast. “We just don’t have a lot of black registered nurses and I think if we can somehow change that, a lot of our patients will feel more at ease and they’ll be more likely to come in and see a doctor before they encounter serious health problems.”
Venable counts among the 5.4 percent of African-American nurses in the nation. A small minority, considering there’s an estimated 2.5 million registered nurses in the United States. Latinos also are in the minority as just 3.6 percent hold those positions.
Because of the lack of minorities who serve as registered nurses, the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign and Macy’s department store have continued its three-year partnership in which 16 scholarships of $2,500 each are awarded annually to help increase the number of diverse health care professionals.
Health care officials said the need for the scholarship program can be found in the fact that tuition hikes at colleges and universities and dramatic cuts to graduate medical education funding across the nation have forced many students to find new ways to pay for college.
In an effort to ease the burden and increase the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine, the American Heart Association and Macy’s, the association’s national sponsor, offer aspiring registered nurses the “Go Red Multicultural Scholarship Fund.”
“At Macy’s, we are deeply committed to supporting diversity throughout everything we do,” said Holly Thomas, Macy’s group vice president of media relations and cause marketing.
“As the founding national sponsor of the American Heart Association’s ‘Go Red for Women’ movement, we are able to extend our reach into an underserved population,” Thomas said. “This includes raising awareness and creating long-term impact by helping increase diversity within the next generation of health care professionals who we know provide lifesaving support to a multicultural population.”
The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Northeast show 11,030 registered nurses working in the Greater Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area with an average annual salary of $77,550.
However, there aren’t many blacks or Latinos among them, officials said.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Eva Gomez, a registered nurse and scholarship judge for the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign, which has raised more than $50 million since 2004.
“As the demographics change and more ethnically and racially diverse populations grow, there will definitely continue to be a need for health care providers who mirror these patients,” she said.
Gomez said having diverse providers makes it possible to deliver health care that’s meaningful, culturally appropriate and patient and family-centered.
Deidre Woods-Walton, a registered nurse and president of the National Black Nurses Association in Silver Spring, Maryland, echoed Gomez’ comments about having a diverse pool of nurses.