Western North Carolina’s health care facilities should see an upsurge in the number of students from underserved rural populations who enter the nursing profession, including members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, if a
$1 million federal workforce diversity grant awarded earlier this year to the Western Carolina University School of Nursing is successful. The Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is awarding approximately $345,000 a year over a three-year period to WCU to create the Western North Carolina Nursing Career Network Project. The effort began this past fall and continues until 2016.
The WNCNCN Project is enabling WCU nursing faculty members to partner with community nursing professionals and nursing educators to serve as mentors to ethnically diverse and disadvantaged students from Andrews, Cherokee, Murphy, Robbinsville, Smoky Mountain and Swain high schools who are interested in nursing as a career. The program also will provide significant scholarships and monthly stipends to qualifying graduates from those high schools and will give them the additional mentoring and support they need to achieve their goals of being nurses, said Judy Neubrander, director of WCU’s School of Nursing.
“For me this is a dream fulfilled – a way to meet the needs of our health care community by increasing the diversity within our School of Nursing and subsequently increasing the diversity of our practicing nurse population,” said Neubrander. “We have tried several ways to increase our student diversity, but have had little success. I believe this new endeavor will help enhance diversity and strengthen our existing relationships with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.”
The WNCNCN Project addresses the barriers of students of ethnic diversity and disadvantaged backgrounds initially at the high-school level through an innovative program designed to excite students in math and science using the Second Life “virtual campus” platform and to provide them with specialized standardized test preparation. The grant also takes advantage of existing programs including MedCat, a medical career counseling and technologies program that works to recruit high school students interested in medical careers and related technologies. MedCat is a component of the Culturally Based Native Health Program, an ongoing partnership among WCU, Wake Forest University and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to promote Native American health initiatives. In addition, the grant will enable students at Southwestern Community College to participate in the new program through the Regionally Increasing Baccalaureate Nurses (RIBN) Program, a partnership that provides a four-year, seamless associate-to-baccalaureate nursing education.
WCU’s School of Nursing is one of only 12 recipients nationwide of the highly competitive federal grant, said Douglas Keskula, dean of the WCU College of Heath and Human Sciences. “This will be an exciting project for the university and for the region we serve,” Keskula said. “It will provide a wonderful opportunity for the School of Nursing, the College of Health and Human Sciences and WCU to help fulfill the health care educational needs of our state and region.”