WMU Bronson School of Nursing wins $2 million grant to boost diversity

KALAMAZOO — What started with a modest $5,000 internal grant has grown into a nearly $2 million federally funded, four-year project to recruit, retain and graduate more underrepresented students into the nursing profession.

The Nursing Workforce Diversity Grant, through the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, will fund the Empowering Nursing Students for Success project. It will target students from underrepresented groups and from educationally and financially disadvantaged populations, pairing them with faculty mentors and student navigators to help shepherd them through the Bronson School of Nursing program.

Fostering greater diversity in the nursing profession is vital, says Dr. Mary Ann Stark, professor of nursing and the grant’s principal investigator.

“Students who come from underrepresented minority groups have many challenges as they come to college,” Stark says. Those include financial problems, some graduate from underperforming K-12 schools, and many are from different social and educational backgrounds than white students.

“Greater diversity is also important because it helps increase the equity in our healthcare services,” adds Dr. Ann Tyler, associate dean for the WMU College of Health and Human Services and a driving force behind the college’s diversity and research efforts. “This project will be a model from which our other programs in the college can learn as they also strive to foster greater diversity in their professions.”

Problems underrepresented students face make it much harder to make the transition to college and are mirrored in the state’s nursing demographics, Stark says.

As of this year, 83.2 percent of nurses were white. The state population overall is 75.4 percent white, Stark says. And only 6.3 percent of nurses are black, compared with 14.2 percent in the general population.

The Latino nursing and general populations are even more skewed, Stark says. Latinos make up only 1.6 percent of nurses compared to 5 percent Latinos in the general population.

“We have a real mismatch between the racial and ethnic backgrounds of nurses compared to the people we serve in our state,” Stark says “So we put together this program and have found it to be wildly successful.”

With the help of the $5,000 grant from the WMU Office of Faculty Development, Stark and other nursing faculty members were able to assemble a group of faculty and students to identify common academic and personal issues that can impede the success of underrepresented students. Those underrepresented students within the program are called “scholars.” Their contact with an older student navigator under the watchful eye of a faculty mentor has been very beneficial, with the scholar, navigator and faculty mentor all getting together to come up with a plan for the scholar.

The navigators help the scholars with all sorts of problems, not just academic. They may need help navigating campus, finding health insurance or
just encouragement.

“One of our scholars came from a background where you showed respect for your faculty and you didn’t bother them,” Stark says. “That meant that you didn’t ask questions and you didn’t go see them in their office. She thought that you had to be invited.”

The navigator went to class with the scholar and together they approached the faculty member after class to talk.

Of the 14 scholars initially included in the program, all have been successful academically. Armed with the HRSA grant, the program is poised for much wider success. Almost half of the grant money goes directly to the scholar for scholarships or stipends. The rest goes to pay for mentoring and to hire student navigators.

Stark says it’s important for the medical profession to mirror society as a whole in its ethnic makeup. There are large differences between ethnic groups in terms of mortality and morbidity, diseases that are more or less common and different cultural traditions and ways of communicating. In addition, a more diverse nursing population enriches the profession with different talents and outlooks.

“It just results in a better delivery of care,” Stark says.

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