January 10, 2023
Philadelphia high school students interested in becoming a nurse can apply to a new program that offers mentorship opportunities, hospital experience and – upon completion – college scholarships.
Penn Medicine's new ASPIRE program, set to begin early this year, combines educational sessions on topics like patient safety and professionalism with opportunities to observe nurses and other clinicians in action at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Those who complete the program and pursue a nursing degree at La Salle University will receive scholarships on top of their federal grants and school scholarships to ensure they do not have any tuition costs. As college students, they'll also have the opportunity to sharpen their skills through paid, part-time positions at HUP.
Each year, the program plans to enroll 25 high school juniors who can continue through their senior years. It is led by HUP nurses and staffers, and based on a program first implemented by the Cleveland Clinic in 2017.
Beth A. Smith, the corporate director of Nursing Professional Development at HUP, said the program offers students a unique opportunity to witness the impact nurses make and to start building the skills need to excel in nursing. Many college students enter nursing school without any industry experience, unless they've volunteered somewhere.
"The students will attend skills labs on effective communication, professionalism and character development and have observation opportunities in clinical settings," Smith told PhillyVoice. "They will also be trained in CPR."
Though the students will not participate in clinical work with hospital patients, they will have opportunities to observe and assist clinicians.
The program is partly funded by the Howley Foundation, which has committed up to $7.5 million. The Cleveland-based foundation is dedicated to creating social and economic mobility through quality educational opportunities
The students in the program also will receive ongoing support through advisors, and have regular check-ins with their peers and program instructors.
The program was developed with the goal of increasing diversity in health care. Studies show that a culturally diverse nursing workforce improves outcomes for patients. But the nursing profession remains mostly comprised of white women.
Nearly 81% of registered nurses in the United States identified as white on the latest National Nursing Workforce Survey; that ratio is higher than the percentage of white people in the general population.
"Historically we haven't been building a diverse nursing workforce," Smith said. "We need to reflect the communities we serve."
She added that hospitals must better match health care needs – a challenge due to the nationwide nursing shortage. "What better way to do this than to invest in local communities?" Smith said.
The ASPIRE Program seeks students who may feel they do not have the financial means or the personal support to pursue a career in the nursing, such as first-generation college students, Smith said.
To be eligible, students must be a junior at a Philadelphia high school, have a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better, be available to attend full Saturday sessions during the spring of their junior year, and demonstrate financial need.
"ASPIRE firmly aligns with Penn Medicine's and HUP's goals to offer pipeline opportunities for members of our community to continue cultivating an inclusive workforce and providing outstanding patient care," Colleen Mattioni, chief nurse executive at HUP, said in a statement.