Study bears out usefulness
Look at any big city, and increasingly, it is made up of minorities. That makes creating a diverse workforce take on even more importance than it has before, says Cathy Strachan Lindenberg, DrPH, RN, associate professor at the University of Washington Department of Family and Child Nursing and Director of Nursing for Seattle Central Community College.
"The language and culture of our cities is diverse and that influences the practices and beliefs of their populations," says Lindenberg. "We need health care professionals who can understand and relate effectively and reassuringly with our population. You cannot do that without being culturally aware and linguistically competent."
But many minorities aren’t exposed to the option of health care education. That makes outreach vital. Lindenberg coauthored a paper published last month in the Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing that looked at a model outreach program Lindenberg works on. In the pilot, of the 24 bilingual teenagers from economically disadvantaged circumstances, 23 graduated from the eight-week summer program and a year later, nearly all of them are working part- or full-time while they continue with either high school or community college.1
The program, dubbed Start Out, integrates life planning, mentorship, nursing assistant training, and college application assistance, while providing summer salary stipends and scholarship or work-study opportunities.
Community involvement makes it work
The program, now in its second year, has 50 bilingual, economically disadvantaged students this summer, after a $100,000 grant doubled the budget for the program. Students do some college preparation work and are encouraged to apply for college before leaving the program. There are also life planning and computer skills classes, as well as the nursing assistant training.
Area hospitals provide the work experience, with the hospitals and the students together determining how much work they do. Some take one shift a week, others take two or three, depending on the needs of the hospital and the student, says Lindenberg.
The program is going back to the first crop of graduates this summer to do a survey of where they are, but Lindenberg knows that as of last December, almost all of them continued to work and remained in school.
The success of the program is built on the whole community coming together, says Lindenberg. North, Central, and South Seattle Community Colleges are involved in the program, and there are some 18 health care facilities — from large hospitals like the University of Washington Medical Center to small clinics — that have agreed to accept students from the program.
Lindenberg admits it could be a couple years at least before one of those hospitals taking on a student this summer gets an RN out of the deal. "But you need both long- and short-term strategies for addressing shortages. If you start with a program like this, you can create a career ladder so that the certified nursing assistants from this program can then become LPNs." Those LPNs can then go on to become RNs, then go on to get their BSN. "At each level, there are job opportunities, so they can fill workforce employment needs. It not only meets the short term demands, but invests in long term goals."
Lindenberg concludes that in creating a program that taps an underrepresented resource, you create a loyal workforce that you can mold to the specifics of your institution. "I can hire a secretary today who has been in a system for 10 years who hasn’t had more education than high school. Or I can hire someone with a BA and no work experience and get more productivity," she explains. "You can have a CNA that can give you a certain amount of productivity. But if you train her up into an LPN and then an RN, you get so much more."
1. Yates SH, Bline K, Bird C et al. Start out: building health care careers for minority teenagers. J Contin Educ Nurs. 2003 May-Jun; 34(3):116-21.
Cathy Strachan Lindenberg, DrPH, RN, associate professor University of Washington Department of Family and Child Nursing and Director of Nursing, Seattle Central Community College, PO Box 357262, Seattle, WA 98195. Telephone: (206) 768-6820.