Diversity in the nursing field is essential for progress toward health equity and improved patient outcomes across the United States. As a result of significant efforts in recent years, the nursing workforce today is more diverse than it was a decade ago, but there is still work to be done in order to achieve the goal of a health workforce that mirrors the nation’s diverse population.
In 2017, the federal government awarded more than $13 million in grants to colleges and universities through the Nursing Workforce Diversity (NWD) Program funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds become nurses. Recipients of the grant include The University of Alabama Capstone College of Nursing, which recently received $1.7 million to support the school’s BAMA-Latino Project, which aims to target and recruit Latino registered nurses (RNs) with associate degrees and prepare them for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) by providing scholarships, academic and professional mentorship, and support through a collaborative partnership with the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN).
“Latinos make up 17.3 percent of the U.S. population,” said Norma Cuellar, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor of nursing at The University of Alabama, director of the BAMA-Latino Project, and president-elect of NAHN. “Unfortunately, as the number of Latinos continue to rise, the number of Latino RNs does not. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, there are about 2.9 million RNs in the country, and just three percent are identified as Latinos. This results in a failure to provide culturally congruent care, language barriers, and health disparities in the Latino population.”
There are a number of reasons why Latinos may not choose to pursue a career in nursing. Many face financial barriers, or do not receive the academic support needed while in junior high and high school, Dr. Cuellar said.
“There is a cultural stigma that begins early in life that does not encourage Latinos to pursue STEM courses,” Dr. Cuellar explained. “Latino students are also not seeing any Latino nurse role models within their communities, so they can’t imagine themselves as a Latino nurse.”
Dr. Cuellar believes that the major challenge in building a Latino nursing workforce centers around education. The purpose of the BAMA-Latino Project is to increase the number of baccalaureate-prepared Latino nurses. The grant will support 80 Latino associate degree registered nurses over a four-year period to attend the school’s online RN-BSN mobility program. Students receive an educational scholarship as well as additional academic and professional support, including a stipend to attend the NAHN Annual National Conference, which provides networking and mentoring opportunities from members of the organization.
While at its core, the BAMA-Latino Project supports Latino students to obtain their BSN, Dr. Cuellar stresses that the journey does not stop there.
“It is imperative that we encourage these Latino students not only to obtain their degree in nursing, but to pursue advanced degrees. There is a dire need to increase the number of Latino nurses who are academically prepared to be leaders in a variety of healthcare roles,” said Dr. Cuellar. “In this ever-changing healthcare landscape, it’s more important than ever for Latino nurses to have a seat at the table. We have to be leaders in nursing, and we have to be the voice for the Latino population.”
The program is currently recruiting for the next cohort of Latino students to begin the RN-BSN program in September 2018. To learn more about the BAMA-Latino Project, visit nursing.ua.edu or contact Dr. Norma Cuellar at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN), visit nahnnet.org.