Innovative OHSU Program Brings Cultural Sensititvity to Nursing Education

01/08/03   ASHLAND, Ore.

OHSU School of Nursing in Ashland spearheads effort to mentor Hispanic students, introduce at-risk teens to nursing careers with exceptional results

With "Making school relevant: embarking on a career path in nursing," Wendy Neander, M.N., R.N., began a pilot involving nine at-risk middle school girls, and was so successful she received funding from the Northwest Health Foundation to expand the program for two additional years. Using a unique method of pairing nursing students with Hispanic teens, Neander, assistant professor in the OHSU School of Nursing, Ashland Campus, has offered the growing southern Oregon Hispanic population a broader vision of school, careers and future -- and an opportunity for this group to display its unique gifts and strengths.

Results of the program are nothing short of phenomenal. With the help of Teresa Sayre, assistant principal at Talent Middle School, Neander identified nine girls in danger of becoming disconnected from school or dropping out. Because Hispanics drop out of Oregon high schools at a rate of 16.4 percent -- almost triple the overall drop out rate -- Sayre and Neander knew they had a tough problem to solve. Neander accomplished it simply and well with her nursing student/middle school student teams.

Once a week, the pairs visited elementary schools where students measured body mass indexes, graphed weights and heights, and noted discrepancies. They offered vision screenings, visited the School of Nursing labs and toured Rogue Valley Hospital. They provided blood pressure checks at a senior drop-in center and even viewed a cadaver.

Abigail Rojas, a senior in the OHSU School of Nursing in Ashland, has found mentorship to be incredibly rewarding. "I reach out to these girls because I want them to see Hispanic women can go on to college and be professionally successful, and I want them to see beyond minimum wage jobs." One participant, in grave danger of dropping out of middle school, actually threatened to run away. Rojas met with her once or twice weekly for less than a month. Almost miraculously, the girl reversed course. Currently she attends classes, practices as a peer mediator, and has brought her GPA from a barely passing 2.2 to an above average 3.3. "In some small way, I touched her," Rojas said. "And that is so fulfilling."

Rojas is doing far more than that. Since the majority of nursing students are not reflective of the population they need to serve, the well-publicized nursing shortage seems to greatly affect minority communities. Introducing these students to nursing as a career may have long term results.

And in the short term, results have been plentiful. All but one of Neander's original participants have significantly increased their GPAs. Most now say they want to pursue careers in nursing or health care. And many graduated from middle school only to demand that their local high school institute the program so they could continue. "It validated all my hopes that the program would be of value to the girls as well as the nursing students," Neander said.

Now in its second year, with expanded participation, Neander ensures that middle and high school "mentees" take note of the program's relevancy to school. Nursing students assign activities that dovetail with classroom work. Journaling, presentations and even videos have been born of the nursing student/teen student pairs. The girls have created a Web site for posting health information and a school bulletin board so other students can pose anonymous questions. Mentees investigate the queries and pin up a response for all to see. Middle and high school participants have been so popular in their work that one elementary nurse requested they keep returning -- even without their mentors. "They've proved themselves beyond their nursing teams," she said.

Rojas's enthusiasm bespeaks how valuable the program is for every mentor. "These girls are more confident in themselves. They're making better decisions and, suddenly, they're comfortable interacting with other cultures. One girl, who was particularly shy about anything not Hispanic, is currently taking Japanese!"

Perhaps 14-year-old Maria Arias, enjoying her second year in the program, puts it best. "At first I just wanted to get out of class and be able to play with little kids. Now I'm interested in school and interested in socializing with people outside my group. Before I wanted to be a secretary. Now I know that's too easy. Instead, I want to be a neonatal nurse. And I know other schools definitely need to do this program too."

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