Mentoring students culturally underrepresented in nursing

By Barbara B. Blozen | 07/05/2017

The author finds joy in seeing nurse mentees develop professionally.

Two women with child
The call for proposals was announced in the latter part of 2013, and when I saw it, I could not believe what I was reading. It seemed to have our university’s name written all over it, and I thought, “This is an absolutely perfect fit!”

We were so excited when the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, informed us it was awarding New Jersey City University (NJCU) a three-year, $897,000 grant for nursing students who are economically disadvantaged and culturally underrepresented in the profession. Those criteria apply to many nursing students at NJCU. In the first year of the grant, we had seven graduates with an Associate Degree in Nursing who qualified. The cohort included four Hispanic and three African-American students.

Barbara B. BlozenMentoring vital
Part of the grant proposal was a mentoring program, one of the primary reasons we had requested the HRSA funds. To meet the healthcare demands of a diverse society, there is an enormous need to mentor nursing students who represent culturally diverse minorities within the society as well as the profession. School is challenging, and these students have full lives with a variety of responsibilities demanding their time. Moreover, a student who is economically disadvantaged or represents a cultural minority is affected by social determinants that may limit opportunities or impose obstacles that result in higher attrition rates. To meet our need for mentors, we solicited full-time faculty members, adjunct faculty members, and clinical partners.

One of our first mentoring meetings with the students was a speed-mentoring session. After brief introductions, they were “connecting” with mentors and, by the end of the evening, had agreed upon preferred methods of communication.

Although all students in the program were registered nurses, none of them were working as RNs because many local employers prefer hiring nurses with bachelor degrees. To overcome this hurdle, we invited the students to a second mentoring session that we called “Ace the interview.” Wearing professional business attire, as requested in the invitation, the students first listened to interview tips and then practiced via role-playing what they had learned.

The skills the students had gained in the “Ace the interview” session to seek employment also helped equip them to interview with a nurse manager for our university’s 900-hour nurse residency program, one of the requirements of the HRSA grant. To help them secure a position in the program, we coached them on how to present themselves, how to dress, and how to respond to interview questions.

Comprehensive support
With a load of 41 credits per year, the students had full schedules with responsibilities pulling them in many directions, so a priority of our mentoring meetings was to keep them grounded and focused. To help them achieve success, we provided each student with a community mentor, access to the on-campus counseling center, time with the Office of Supplemental Instruction, and access to a day care center. Providing grant beneficiaries with 60 percent of their tuition costs, paying for their books, and giving each of them a stipend of $5,000 for the fall and spring semesters also proved invaluable. They knew their success in the program was based in large part upon this comprehensive network of support services, and they were very grateful.

As the program’s mentoring coordinator, I listened as the students expressed their concerns and helped them organize and prioritize their time and studies. Our meetings gave them a safe place for disclosing and working through issues while providing a sense of belonging. As a psychiatric nurse, I supported this first cohort of students as they navigated their way through a challenging year. Meeting with them at least once a month, I did what I could to support them and help them remain focused.

Sometimes, students think that successful nursing professors can’t relate to their economic situations and educational struggles. Most of the students in the program were the first in their families to graduate from college, and they were encouraged when I informed them that I, too, was a first-generation college graduate and the only one of four siblings in my family with a college degree. And unlike the students funded by the HRSA program, I had graduated with education loans to repay. I also told them that I had been fortunate to have a number of positive mentoring relationships throughout my professional nursing career.

Mentoring a win-win situation
My first mentor had such a significant impact on my career that I still recall her name 35 years later. Knowing how valuable a mentor can be to a person’s success, I hope the students I’ve mentored have the same positive feelings I have about my mentors and mentoring experiences. I am passionate about good mentoring and feel it can be the difference between success and failure. I see mentoring as a duty, a professional obligation.

Mentoring relationships provide opportunities to teach and learn. Mentees often gain self-confidence as they learn to trust in themselves both personally and professionally. This was certainly evident by the end of the program. Seeing the personal and professional growth of each group I mentored was awe-inspiring. There is joy in watching nurse mentees develop professionally. Mentoring is a win-win situation and then some. The mentor, the mentee, the organization, and the healthcare industry at large all benefit from mentoring.

Here’s what some of the students who benefited from the HRSA grant had to say about their mentoring experience:

  • “This year has been full of priceless discoveries and knowledge.”
  • “This has been an extremely long and challenging year, but having seven girls I can relate to that share similar struggles with me lessened the load. I could never repay for the opportunity that has been afforded to me.”
  • “The HRSA Grant Program totally changed my life and my view of nursing.”
  • “This year has been great, and I’ll be forever grateful for this opportunity.”

Over the course of the three-year grant, I’ve watched members of each group mature and support one another. As they grew, I had the best seat in the house! When members of the first cohort graduated with their BSN degrees, we held a special graduation ceremony for their families, children, and significant supporters to attend. It was informal and relaxed, and the pride of the students and families was palpable. Not only did it mark their achievement of earning a bachelor’s degree, it marked the beginning of a new life and career for them. All the students who had participated in the program were baccalaureate-prepared, employed as nurses, and free of student debt. Without that HRSA grant, many of them would not have achieved this milestone.

Barbara B. Blozen, EdD, MA, RN-BC, CNL, is associate professor, Nursing Department, New Jersey City University, Jersey City, New Jersey, USA

Editor’s note: Barbara Blozen will present “Mentoring the Culturally Diverse Nursing Student” on Sunday, 30 July, at the 28th International Nursing Research Congress in Dublin, Ireland. See the Virginia Henderson Global Nursing e-Repository for additional information.

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