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RRH Nursing Program Expands Efforts in Diversity, Equity

Patti Singer

Deborah Stamps, chief nursing education and diversity officer for Rochester Regional Health. Provided photo

In seeking more diversity in health care, Rochester Regional Health is expanding its Isabella Graham Hart School of Practical Nursing into Ontario, Genesee and St. Lawrence counties.

It is seeking to enroll at least 20 students in each region for classes that are scheduled to begin in January.

The rural areas may not be what people in Monroe County think of when they hear the word diversity. But Deborah Stamps, chief nursing education and diversity officer for Rochester Regional Health, said diversity is much broader than many realize.

“Historically when people hear diversity, they always think of race, ethnicity,” she said. But rural residents, an older population and the circumstances of migrant workers or people in particular cultures such as Amish require their own set of sensibilities among providers.

In a conversation with Minority Reporter, Stamps talked about how diversity and its sibling, equity, are necessary to improve health care for all people.

Is it difficult for people to overcome the idea that diversity is limited to race or ethnicity?

Diversity is real simple. It’s the mere presence of difference. And those differences can be characteristics of people, groups. Then there’s dimensions of diversity that are driven by our identity. When we think about identity, there’s primary characteristics of age, gender, sexual orientation. And then there’s the secondary characteristics of identity, which are your education, your language, religion. … . I love the iceberg — what’s above the water and what’s below the water. From a diversity perspective, we have language, we have gender expressions, certain styles, but underneath that’s where we have our values and our culture, sexual orientation, that are who we are based on.

Do you think that because of the social action and social justice work since George Floyd, Daniel Prude and effects of COVID-19, the diversity has been narrowed into race.

Yes. I think that it’s one aspect, but that’s not the only aspect because we also have to really look at that equity piece. Many people interchange equality and equity. Imagine individuals want to ride a bike and we provide the bike. That’s equality. Everybody gets a bike. However, people have different needs. There might be a person that’s 6 foot 4. There may be a person that has a wheelchair dependency. So the bike that we provided, which is a standard bike, isn’t a one-size-fits-all. It’s missing the equity. Maybe this person needs a larger bike, because they’re taller. This person needs a smaller bike because they’re not as tall. That’s where the equity piece comes in. …

And I really think we definitely have the microscope especially on African Americans. I think that’s because there’s been so many years of the disparities in health that have not been addressed. We’ve been working on them, but they haven’t improved health outcomes for African Americans. The system has not gotten better.

We know unfortunately racism is still real and it’s still alive. And we also know the unconscious biases that exist. Some people don’t want to acknowledge that they have them. Or they feel that it’s a dirty word, ‘Oh, I should not have them, so I’m not going to speak about them.’ We all have biases. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s what we do when we know that we have them. Does it impact the care that we give? Does it impact the decisions we make about hiring? Does it impact decisions about people overall, access to various things such as education or other resources. … It’s what we’re doing consciously or intentionally to address those things.

How does this translate into hiring goals and diversity as the practical nursing program expands?

The goal is 50% diversity of our student body among races, age, gender. Nationally, the percentage of the number of males in nursing is about 9%, 10%. We want to be better than that. …

We want to build at Rochester Regional Health a more inclusive workforce overall. We want to ensure that the people in our communities have health equity. Health equity is really a commitment to eliminate healthcare disparities. … We’ll know when we’ve achieved that when we know that every person in our community has the opportunity to attain that full health potential, that there’s no disadvantage based on where you live, how you look, the social circumstances do not determine your health, and that’s the bigger, broader piece.