Preparing high school students from diverse backgrounds to pursue nursing education and employment is the aim of a new grant-funded program developed by faculty at Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston in collaboration with nurse leaders at our key clinical partner, Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center.
Associate Professor Maja Djukic, PhD, and Instructor D’Hania Miller, MS, have received a $250,000 grant from the Hearst Foundation for the Advancing Diversity and Visibility through the Accelerated Nursing Curricula with Collaboration and Engagement (ADVANCCE) program.
Recruiting and retaining nurses while employing a diverse workforce was a challenge before the onset of COVID-19, and the pandemic magnified both issues. The Texas Department of State Health Services projects a deficit of 57,000 registered nurses and 12,500 licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) 2032. The state also reports that 56.9% of nurses are white, while the patient populations they care for are much more diverse.
Building a bridge
Djukic and Miller partnered with Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center nurse leaders, Houston Community College, and Houston Independent School District, to simultaneously address the nursing shortage and the need to improve workforce diversity. The bridging program they created will provide high school students interested in health care careers a path to success.
“We believe there are plenty of students interested in a career in health care, but they just don’t know the steps to take or have the proper guidance on how to take them,” said Djukic said. “There are many of what we are calling ‘social determinants of success,’ such as adequate childcare, food, and transportation support that these young people need to enter and remain in the nursing profession.”
“Currently, no program in Houston exists to create a pipeline of diverse, entry-level nursing professionals to help curb the current nursing shortage,” said Miller, who has served as chair of the Cizik School of Nursing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council. “Through the ADVANCCE program, we are filling an imminent need for bridge programs that transition underserved minority high school students into health science careers to ensure that hospitals and other health care entities have nurses that reflect their patient populations.”
Changing the trajectory
The ADVANCCE program also aims to foster a strong foundation of patient care competencies while enhancing professional skill development and résumé-building efforts.
For the initial phase, Cizik School of Nursing and its partners will target health-focused career and technical education (CTE) programs in the Houston Independent School District (HISD). Miller, who has previous experience working in high schools, will work to recruit students from local area high schools with diverse populations.
The first cohort of 30 students entering their senior year will be immersed in a three-week summer seminar beginning in 2023. The program will start at the Cizik School of Nursing, where students will attend faculty-led lectures and hands-on activities in the school’s state-of-the-art simulation lab. They will have the opportunity to learn basic patient care skills and attain industry certification in various areas, including bloodborne pathogens, essential life support, and regulatory compliance. Students will also shadow nurses on shift at Memorial Hermann to receive real-world exposure to a clinical setting.
“We will pay students to attend the summer immersion seminar and cover any related costs that may prevent them from participating, including childcare, transportation, and meals,” said Djukic. “Our goal is to remove any obstacles that may prevent these young people from reaching their full potential and pursuing their dreams of a health care career.”
The summer seminar will be followed by a year-long mentoring program that includes twice-a-month virtual meetings between students and their designated mentors from the Cizik School of Nursing and Memorial Hermann. These mentors will be on hand to help students complete the college application process and assist them with their professional skills. Students will also receive guidance on which college courses to take to prepare for an LVN program, an associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree in nursing.
“The ADVANCCE program strives to build social determinants of success skills to boost the acceptance of underrepresented youth into post-secondary education institutions where they already have some familiarity or employment,” said Miller. “This will increase the diversity of the nursing workforce and ultimately reduce disparities in the long run.”
Drawing on personal experience
Both Djukic and Miller are passionate about this project not only because it holds the potential to help young people pursue their dreams but because they can both personally relate.
As a first-generation immigrant from Serbia, Djukic came to the United States as a high school foreign exchange student. Her host mother encouraged her to seek nursing as a career path and get a “ticket to a better life.” Without this guidance and direction from her host mother, Djukic would not be where she is today.
“Everyone needs and deserves a mentor like my host mom who can provide guidance and direction,” said Djukic.
Miller remembers that her high school did not offer any classes or tracts that exposed her to health care. If it weren’t for her mother and grandmother, who were both registered nurses, she wouldn’t know that nursing was a possible career for her. Out of 300 students in her graduating high school class, she only knew three that entered the nursing field.
“The ADVANCCE program presents a win-win situation for students, schools, and health care employers alike, and we can’t wait to see how it unfolds,” said Miller.
Pictured (L-R). D'Hania Miller and Maja Dkujic.