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Rochester Launches Dialogue on Diversity in Nursing

Conference to Identify Barriers and Develop Strategic Plan

Monday, April 11, 2005

As a youngster, Keshia Givens always dreamed of being a nurse. Yet as a 33-year-old African-American mother of two, that dream seemed far out-of-reach.

Working as a medical secretary on the labor and delivery unit at Highland Hospital, Keshia had no idea of the financial and social support systems that exist to help minorities pursue a career in nursing.  It was only when her nurse manager approached her with information about available financial and mentoring resources that she found herself on her way to becoming a nurse. Through state grants, monies are available to offset tuition costs, provide mentoring support, even to backfill her position at Highland while Keshia attends classes or studies.  

For many like Keshia the option of becoming a nurse is not a given.  In fact, for a variety of reasons, it’s often not even considered.  “For one, many young minority patients never see a black or Hispanic nurse,” she explains.  “There are very few practicing role models.” 

Minorities who enroll in nursing schools are unlikely to encounter minority faculty members.  “There are huge opportunities to create more diverse nursing faculties in all of our schools,” said professor Mattie Schmitt, Ph.D., R.N., of the University of Rochester School of Nursing.

Market Pressure Creates Opportunity

These facts help to explain why, in New York State, minorities comprise less than 18% of the entire nursing workforce, despite making up more than 37% of the population.  The number of minorities who advance to registered nurse status or above is even lower.  That type of selectivity is something that health care providers can no longer afford, particularly amid a sharply rising demand for nurses.   

The New York State Department of Labor projects the need for registered nurses to grow by 16,500 professionals over the next 10 years, triggering a state-wide shortfall of more than 23,500 registered nurses by the year 2010.   Locally, the need may be even more acute:  the current R.N. vacancy rate for the Rochester region is 9.9%, compared with a statewide vacancy rate of 8.9%. 

Rising demand spells a promising future for those practicing nursing or, like Keshia, studying to be a nurse.  Today, Keshia is enrolled in pre-requisite courses at Monroe Community College while she continues to work full-time.  When she graduates in December of 2006, she hopes to continue working in Labor and Delivery at Highland – but this time as a registered nurse.  And, she’s encouraging her daughter, Sharee, a 10th grader at Wilson Magnet High School, to consider a nursing career. 

Leading Change

“To build a sufficient and appropriately skilled workforce for the future, we must reach out into all areas of our community, inviting them to embrace nursing as a welcoming and rewarding career choice,” said conference organizer Gail Ingersoll, Ed.D., director of Clinical Nursing Research at Strong.  “Plus, with a more diverse nursing workforce, we can provide culturally competent care to under-served communities and ethnic groups.” 

The first step: attracting the brightest candidates and nurturing their leadership skills. “We need to attract minorities to all levels of nursing so that not only does the complexion of nurses reflect that of society, but the percentage of minorities holding graduate degrees and leadership positions is consistent with their numbers,” said Rita D’Aoust, M.S., R.N., senior associate at the UR School of Nursing.

Many of Rochester’s nursing schools and health care employers have succeeded in recruiting minority candidates.  For instance, 20% of the students enrolled in the University of Rochester School of Nursing’s Accelerated Program for Non-Nurses are members of minority groups.  Yet, throughout the community, little is done to share or build upon these successes. 

To help identify the barriers that prevent minorities from choosing or remaining in nursing careers and to provide a platform for sharing recruitment lessons, the University of Rochester School of Nursing and Strong Memorial Hospital Nursing Practice are hosting a community-wide conference on April 11 and 12 at the UR Medical Center. 

The University hopes that the conference will serve as a springboard for developing a community-wide strategic plan to increase the number of students, nurses, and faculty from underrepresented groups. 

“From there, we hope to apply to the Department of Health and Human Services for a grant to implement a community-wide strategic plan,” Ingersoll said. “By building on our successes with fresh, new strategies, we have the opportunity to set the pace nationally on minority recruitment and retention.”

About the Community-Wide Diversity Conference on Nursing

To help identify the barriers that prevent minorities from choosing or remaining in nursing careers and to provide a platform for sharing recruitment lessons, the University of Rochester School of Nursing and the Strong Memorial Hospital Nursing Practice department are hosting a community-wide conference on April 11 and 12 at the UR Medical Center.  All of the region’s nursing schools as well as other colleges whose graduates often choose to pursue nursing education are invited, along with high school guidance counselors, and directors of nursing at Rochester-area hospitals, nursing homes, and home health agencies.  The two-day conference is free of charge.

Day one will feature four national experts in minority-focused nurse recruitment and retention: 

  • Dr. Rumay Alexander of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill;
  • Dr. Barbara Aranda-Narajo of Georgetown University;
  • Dr. Carmen Portillo of the University of California at San Francisco;
  • Dr. Randolph Rasch of Vanderbilt University. 

Four local leaders will then react to the presentations and discuss local issues. These include:

  • Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency administrator Bonnie DeVinney;
  • Rochester City Council member Wade Norwood;
  • SUNY Brockport nursing faculty member Marjorie Scott;
  • Ibero-American Action League executive director Julio Vasquez.

The second day of the conference will be devoted to a series of small-group workshops. The goal is to develop a community-wide strategic plan, along with grant applications that could fund pilot programs and other initiatives.

The conference will be held in the Flaum Atrium of the Kornberg Medical Research Building at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.  For registration information, call (585) 273-2133.

Media Contact

Teri D'Agostino

(585) 275-3676

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