An effort to attract minorities to nursing
Copyright 2002 Providence Publications, LLC
The Providence Journal-Bulletin (Providence, RI)...03/05/2002
MARION DAVIS Journal Staff Writer
Aiming to boost Rhode Island's nursing ranks and bring more minorities into the profession, Salve Regina University has launched a $ 2-million program to recruit nursing students of color and support them with scholarships, mentors, and hospital jobs.
Nurses are in short supply across the nation, with young women opting for better-paying, less-strenuous jobs even as the need for nursing grows with an aging population.
Demographic changes have also built up demand for minority nurses, especially Hispanics who can break through language and culture barriers. But while the U.S. population is now 30 percent minority including 12.5 percent Hispanic less than 14 percent of registered nurses are minorities, and only 2 percent Hispanic.
All that holds true for Rhode Island, where 1,300 new nurses will be needed in the next six years, according to the Department of Labor and Training. More than 400 nursing jobs
are already vacant. And while the state's Hispanic population has doubled in a decade, the number of Hispanic nurses has not.
Concerned about the problem, Theresa Madonna, dean of graduate studies and continuing education at Salve Regina, set out to make a difference.
The university already offers a bachelor of science program in nursing, as well as a continuing-education track for established nurses who want to earn a degree. Working with nursing department chair Louise Murdoch, Madonna looked at what it would take to attract more minority students and shepherd them through nursing school.
First of all, Madonna said, they'd have to clear up some misconceptions about the job that it's a lifetime of cleaning bedpans, for example. In reality, nursing ranges from bedside care, to high-tech work, to home care, to community health, to policymaking.
Nursing school itself is also tough, Madonna said. Students have to tackle biology, chemistry and math, learn new technology, and do clinical work. Not everyone can keep up.
And the cost, of course, is a major obstacle. Even young people with no obligations find it challenging, Madonna said, and for students with children, who have to work to support their families, it can be too much.
To help pay for a new program, the university enlisted U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy's help, and through his position on the House Appropriations Committee, he secured a $ 1-million federal grant.
Kennedy said he was happy to help Salve Regina tackle a problem that has become "a national crisis."
Salve Regina committed itself to invest $ 500,000 in money and services, and five local hospitals pledged another $ 500,000: Roger Williams Medical Center, and Newport, Miriam, Rhode Island, and Women & Infants Hospitals.
"Nursing is the lifeblood of the hospital," said Arthur Sampson, president of Newport Hospital. The shortage of nurses especially minorities is a growing concern for the health-care industry, he added, and the Salve Regina program will make a difference. "At the end of this, it's my hope that we'll be able to employ these nurses."
The hospitals will play a key role in the program, Madonna said. They will help to design it, and provide mentors, job-shadowing opportunities, internships, maybe even part-time jobs for students who need the income.
For Salve Regina, which now has about 80 nursing students, the program will require expanding the nursing labs to accommodate the new recruits. There will also be technology upgrades, Madonna said, and new initiatives, such as outreach to local high schools, tutoring and other academic supports for nursing students, and programs for students' families.
"A whole support system has to be in place for people who want to be in college," she said. The plan is still under development, and most of the students won't enroll until the fall of 2003 though Madonna is hoping to get at least some this fall. She is also looking ahead already, hoping to find extra money to make this a permanent program, and not just a one-time effort.
Madonna still doesn't know how many students this first wave of financing can support, but she's determined to give those she does recruit everything they need to earn their degrees.
"I would not want to take a large mass of students and give them all a little, but not enough to succeed," Madonna said.
Along with the hospitals, Salve Regina has invited a variety of health-care and nurses' groups including Rhode Island's black and Hispanic nurses' associations to help shape the program. The response so far has been enthusiastic.
"This is very important," said Pamela L. McCue, executive director of the Rhode Island State Nurses Association. "This is a real pragmatic step in addressing the critical nursing shortage this state is experiencing."
McCue also praised the emphasis on minorities, noting that "we don't have the diversity in the profession to really meet the patients' needs." Setting up scholarships is "common sense," and a "step in the right direction," McCue said. Many things still need to be done to strengthen the nursing profession, she said more academic help, pay raises, an end to mandatory overtime. "But we're happy to see this."