A key objective of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) program is to help boost ongoing efforts to diversify the nation’s nursing schools. To date, the program has funded scholarships for more than 3,500 nursing students from groups underrepresented in nursing, supporting their studies at accelerated baccalaureate (BSN) and masters programs at more than 125 schools of nursing nationwide. The students NCIN supports are on the road to becoming second-career nurses, and have earned bachelor’s degrees in non-nursing disciplines.
But once those students have earned their degrees and moved into the profession, will NCIN, now in its seventh and final grant cycle, have had a lasting impact on the institutions that were part of the program?
At the Duke University School of Nursing, NCIN’s long-term imprint may be best measured by the student organizations and other support systems that have been created during the school’s participation in the program. As Associate Professor Kathleen Turner, DNP, RN, Duke’s NCIN program liaison, explains, the leadership and mentoring aspects of NCIN were so successful that “we’ve revamped our whole orientation around that concept, and used it throughout. ... It’s been nice to be able to offer that, principally for our NCIN scholars, but incorporating other active members in the community, and sharing that with all of our students.”
As part of that effort, Duke created student mentoring and student peer-tutoring programs. While the peer tutoring was initially envisioned as a support for those underrepresented in nursing,“we found that our NCIN students are usually the ones offering to do the tutoring, working with other BSN students.” Both programs will continue, outliving NCIN.
Similarly, three new student organizations have arisen at Duke to support specific groups of nursing students: those from minority racial or ethnic backgrounds; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students; and men. “Our NCIN scholars have been instrumental in the organizations, assuming leadership positions. So it’s had a synergistic effect with the rest of our efforts,” Turner said.
Increasing the diversity of the student body and faculty has been an ongoing strategic goal for the school of nursing, and Turner says the NCIN program is “beautifully aligned” with that effort. During the seven years Duke has participated, the nursing school has revised its financial aid policy to direct aid exclusively toward those with demonstrated economic need, thus increasing the funding for need-based scholarships. The school has also focused on recruiting faculty from groups traditionally underrepresented in nursing, bringing in 11 new faculty members who were Hispanic, black or male during the first six years of NCIN
The program has also led Duke to seek and secure funding to expand its overall accelerated BSN program by 93 percent, supplementing the NCIN funds with grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The school has developed institutional partnerships with seven historically black colleges and universities in North Carolina, as well as two institutions that serve a high number of Hispanic students. The partnerships are intended to help expand the pipeline of nursing students from minority communities.
Just as significantly to Turner, however, are the less tangible aspects of NCIN’s impact. “It’s really brought a strong sense of community for our students,” she says. “And it’s highlighted for all of us, students and faculty alike, the idea that our students should perceive themselves as leaders. At the same time, it’s reinforced the idea that in this profession, mentorship is so valuable, and that it’s important to identify mentors for yourself and to mentor others. It really reinforces the need for our students to have a conscious plan, asking, ‘how am I going to move forward and what will that take?’”
Turner says NCIN participation has also underscored the important role of financial support for students as the institution seeks to build a more diverse program. “As a private educational institution, I think we realize that we need to be looking for funding for our students, and particularly for our underrepresented students in nursing, because of the cost of the tuition. The $10,000 scholarship is a lot of money, but in the scheme of tuition at Duke, we clearly need to be more strategic about funding sources for our students as we go forward.”
New Careers in Nursing is a national program of RWJF and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.