Eric Fenkl, tenured associate professor at the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences, sees himself as an advocate. Whether it’s students, the nursing industry or patients—each area needs support to improve society.
“As an FIU faculty member, I shape nursing practice by instilling nursing students with knowledge, sensitivity and respect for ethnically and culturally diverse LGBT populations,” he says.
For many, COVID-19 showed the depth of health disparities that exist in the United States. To address these issues Fenkl says cultural competence, diversity in patients, diversity of nurses, vulnerable populations and technology should be areas that drive nursing education in the future.
1. Cultural competence
With several decades of experience and many published articles in scientific journals, Fenkl is the co-author of college-level textbooks on culturally competent care in health care. It’s an area he believes everyone in nursing needs to master to better serve diverse communities.
Cultural competence in nursing allows practitioners to provide the best care for individuals as practitioners recognize, celebrate and work with patients of different cultural backgrounds who may hold different opinions, beliefs, thoughts, norms, customs and traditions.
At its core, Fenkl says, cultural competence helps communities like Miami have better health care and improves lives.
2. Diversity in patients
Another area that influences health care is diversity. Fenkl points to the shifting population of Miami from the 1980s to now.
A diverse population, Fenkl says needs cultural competence.
“Miami is a good example of cultural competence with the diversity that is present. It’s an ever-changing city with large growth among those who are foreign-born and first-generation. They need advocacy,” he says.
3. Diversity in nurses
Nursing has always been a female-dominated field, but this is changing, notes Fenkl. He highlights that a more diverse population of nurses will be of greater support to diverse communities. FIU has one of the highest numbers of male students in nursing. Diverse faculty produce diverse student bodies—something for which FIU is also known.
4. Vulnerable populations
One of the biggest issues in the nation is access to health care among vulnerable populations.
“When you look at the barriers—cost is so prohibitive that people are reluctant to seek out health care,” Fenkl says. There's been much talk about whether African-Americans are getting the care they need when exposed to COVID-19. “Nurses need to be involved with communities,” he emphasizes.
Looking forward, it’s clear that digital health tools will offer more specific care. The growth of telehealth, for example, has offered new pathways for health treatment.
Fenkl concludes: “We need to look for ways we can reach people that are more comfortable. We can’t go backward. Everything that happens in life changes us."