Empowering Diverse Nurses

Health Care July 2021 PREMIUM
To best serve our communities, we must look more like the communities we serve.

By The Marquette University, College of Nursing


The Marquette University College of Nursing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has long promoted diversity and inclusion in its practices and is actively working to make even greater strides.   

According to Dr. Janet Wessel Krejci, Dean of Nursing at Marquette, it is hoped that by cultivating a diverse student nurse population, the nursing profession as a whole can better address health disparities and improve patient outcomes across all communities, with special attention to those historically underserved. 

“These goals are made possible through outreach programs, as well as scholarships and other resources to support and value diverse students not just during the application and admission processes, but throughout their education and careers as they go on to inspire the next generation of nurses,” said Dr. Terrie Garcia, coordinator of Project BEYOND-2, a federally-funded program at Marquette that provides support to undergraduate nursing students from underrepresented backgrounds.

Marquette’s College of Nursing recently received a $31 million transformational gift. The college has laid out its plan to use the gift to fuel its strategic initiatives, which includeboosting scholarships, increasing diversity and driving innovative health care advances. 

The gift will expand scholarship opportunities for students, with a focus on advancing diversity, equity and inclusion. Beginning in Fall 2021, scholarships will be designated for underrepresented students who are accepted into the College of Nursing, with additional scholarships added each year. 

The college’s leadership team has cast a vision to prepare 5,000 nurses over the next decade. Of the 5,000 nurses, the college aspires to educate 1,000 diverse nurses and grow a dynamic Ph.D.-prepared faculty. It is also endeavoring to lead in emerging areas, including telehealth education. Recognizing the rapidly changing health care environment, the plans will meet a pressing need to develop future nurse leaders.

Marquette’s College of Nursing, Garcia said, has expert researchers engaged with the community to impact health in several populations, including adults with chronic illnesses. The College also has faculty investigating racial disparities in maternal-child health.

Going “BEYOND” to support diversity, equity and inclusion

In addition to the latest gift, Project BEYOND-2 is an initiative at Marquette established in 2007 that specializes in connecting with and encouraging students from underrepresented, as well as disadvantaged backgrounds, to pursue careers in professional nursing. The program, which successfully secures a variety of grants each year to drive its mission forward, consists of nurses and community leaders who work with students on an individual level to achieve academic excellence.

Project BEYOND-2 also offers a summer pre-admission intensive program for new freshmen, which has proven especially beneficial for first-generation students. It is an on-campus, five-day program to begin socialization and readiness for college. The program focuses on note taking, study skills, test-taking strategies, stress and time management, professional writing, using university resources, applying for scholarships and accessing faculty assistance. 

The program also features academic and personal support, as well as tutoring, nurse mentors, peer mentoring circles and experiential leadership development resources. 

“The ‘BEYOND’ in Project Beyond-2 stands for ‘Building Equitable Youth Opportunities for Nursing Diversity,’” Garcia said. “It’s key that Latino students, for example, are shown early in their education that they can achieve a career in nursing and there are people and tools in place at the college level dedicated to helping their dreams of becoming a nurse a reality.” 

Efforts to engage Latino students

Garcia said Project BEYOND-2, through its proactive outreach, has been a great mechanism for recruiting valuable Latino nursing talent. So far, more than 130 diverse nurses have graduated through the program. It is through these positive student experiences that more Latino and other diverse students will continue to seek out careers in nursing. 

Building interest, trust and confidence in nursing higher education among prospective Latino students, though, is cyclical, in that it partially relies on increasing Latino representation and visibility within the profession. 

Elsa Sanchez is a Project BEYOND-2 nursing student at Marquette who just completed her sophomore year. She said attending a university that boldly and whole-heartedly makes diversity a priority is exciting and makes the nursing profession more promising.  

“When it comes to diversity in the nursing workplace, it provides a sense of comfort to patients in that there are people taking care of them who look like them,” Sanchez said. “It goes back to having someone who can relate to you, or someone in whom you can confide. That is so important.”

Sanchez added, “We (nurses) are the first and last line of defense. In the realm of expanding opportunities for underrepresented students, it is a smart investment because right now, Milwaukee desperately needs and deserves an inclusive, well-round nursing industry.” 

The numbers show Sanchez is right. According to the Department of Health Services, in 2018, Milwaukee County was home to just under 113,000 Latinos, which accounted for nearly 40% of the state’s total Latino population. This makes Milwaukee a key place to benefit from more diverse nurses.

Of course, diversity is important beyond Wisconsin. 

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, from 2015 to 2019, the number of minority students enrolled or who graduated in baccalaureate nursing programs has slowly, but steadily increased. Similarly, from 2010 to 2019, the total number of minority graduates in baccalaureate and graduate nursing education nearly doubled.

The rising number of minority nursing students overall is promising. However, the AACN finds that while Hispanics or Latinos account for just over 13% of the generic and entry level nursing programs, Hispanic or Latino representation dwindles when looking at the population of nurses in higher degree programs.

Now more than ever, Garcia said, it is important for schools to invest in tools to recruit a strong diverse pool of nurses interested in continuing their education, as colleges across the nation are facing a serious nursing faculty shortage. The AACN notes one third of the current nursing faculty workforce in baccalaureate and graduate programs are expected to retire by 2025.

Efforts to engage Latino students must go beyond individual programs, though. 

Marquette is currently working to earn Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) status. Institutions achieve HSI status when their enrollment of undergraduate full-time equivalent students is at least 25% Hispanic or Latino. Marquette launched this initiative in the spring of 2016 when its undergraduate student enrollment was 9.7% Hispanic or Latino. 

Today, that number is 15%. Moreover, the student population identifying as Hispanic or Latino at Marquette has more than doubled over the last decade. 

With this, Marquette has provided Latino students with $33 million in financial aid in the 2020-21 academic year alone. Other efforts to support Latino students financially have included more than $250,000 raised for the Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J. Dreamers Scholarship for undocumented students through 2021, and up to $30,000 in matching funds for Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee scholarships offered to Marquette students. 

“These measures will collectively work to provide more educational opportunities for students ” Garcia said. “It is clear that skilled diverse Marquette Nurses will be great assets to the world.” 


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