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October 13, 2021

New scholarships seek to improve racial diversity within Philly's nursing industry

Temple University is partnering with the Independence Blue Cross Foundation to offer grants – and jobs – to students of color

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IBX Temple Nursing Scholarships Courtesy/Independence Blue Cross Foundation

Jennifer Brown, assistant nursing professor at Temple University, joins four students selected to receive scholarships thanks to the school's partnership with the IBX Foundation: Justine Jones, Hannah Mahler, Sakeesha Similien and Jamirah Branch.

A new grant program aims to help diversify Philadelphia's nursing workforce by providing full college scholarships and eventual employment opportunities to students of color.

The Independence Blue Cross Foundation is funding full four-year scholarships, which cover tuition and educational expenses, for five students pursuing a nursing degree at Temple University. When they graduate, the students will be given an opportunity to secure a job within the Temple University Health System. 

The students also will receive academic support as they pursue their degrees, including paid internships, learning communities and mentorships. 

The program, run in collaboration with Temple's College of Public Health and Department of Nursing, initially has selected five students from North Philly high schools. Eventually, it will expand to include 20 students and other schools. 

It aims to create a direct pipeline to nursing for students of color.  

Earlier this year, the National Academy of Medicine released a Future of Nursing report emphasizing the importance of addressing the health care needs of a diverse population. To help do so, it advised nursing programs to increase diversity among its students. 

This new pipeline program will help achieve that goal, Temple President Jason Wingard said. 

"The importance of intentionally targeting these front line practitioners is crucial given the current complexities of the health care system," Wingard said in a press release, noting the program will "enhance equity and access of training." 

The diversity of the nursing professionals in the Philadelphia region is quite different from the overall population. Pennsylvania's registered nurses are 91% white, but more than half of the people they serve in the Philadelphia region are people of color. 

"We know that people are comfortable receiving health care from someone who looks like them," Mary Terhaar, chair of Temple's nursing department, told PhillyVoice. "Unfortunately, there is a dominance of caucasians in nursing."

There are a lot of barriers for students of color, she said. They often don't have a role model encouraging them to pursue a degree or know someone who can give them an understanding of what it is like to be a nurse.

The cost of a nursing education also is a big factor, she said. Many students of color will become nursing aides to support their families while going to school. The job and the need for money then compete with their schooling.

Most of these students want to go to college, but struggles and stressors can deter academic success, according to Jennifer Brown, an assistant professor in Temple's nursing department. The new program will help them focus on their education without worrying about the cost.

"This will change their lives," Brown told PhillyVoice.

The program also is a way for Temple to invest in the communities surrounding its campus, Brown added.

The pipeline of support for these students will start in high school by helping high school students meet nursing school admissions criteria. Temple will offer three-day summer programs for high school students focused on safety and first aid, hygiene, healthy nutrition, stress management, and the role of nursing in the health of individuals, families and communities.

"A diverse nursing workforce is essential to providing culturally competent care in communities of color, so we must make sure nursing education is an option for all who want to enter the career," Gregory E. Deavens, Independence Blue Cross CEO, said in a press release.

"Independence is a champion of health equity and social change, tackling challenges through partnerships like the Healthcare Scholars Pipeline Program. We are proud to work with Temple University and Philadelphia-area high schools to launch this program and mark another milestone in our 20-year journey of support for nursing."

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