by Matt Batcheldor
VUMC nurses are collaborating with Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) to mentor high school students to become medical assistants or care partners who have identified a future goal of being a registered nurse.
Members of the Medical Center’s Nurse Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee (NDEIC) will meet monthly with 19 high school seniors at Pearl-Cohn High School in North Nashville as the students prepare for a career after graduation. The mentors held a kickoff event in August with their mentees as they go into the new school year.
Mamie Williams, M.P.H., M.S.N., R.N., F.N.P.-B.C. senior director of Nursing Diversity and Inclusion, said the collaboration with Pearl-Cohn’s Health Science Academy is just the beginning. As this program demonstrates its success and long-term benefits, the plan is to expand to additional academies throughout the Metro school system.
The program serves a mutual need. VUMC needs diverse nurses, medical assistants and care partners to care for its increasingly diverse patient population. Metro schools needs career opportunities for its students.
For VUMC, the mentorship work is an opportunity to reach out to a diverse area to recruit future nurses, medical assistants and care partners—all positions in demand.
The committee has studied best practices for community outreach with an eye toward building a pipeline for diverse health care workers. The program will also help VUMC better understand barriers to that diversity.
“The nurses on the NDEIC recognized this as an opportunity for VUMC nurses to invest in the future of the nursing profession,” Williams said. “Additionally, they were motivated to create a sustainable positive generational impact on individuals, their families and their community.”
The collaboration is a ‘life-changing’ opportunity for students to have a career with advancement opportunities, one they can begin right out of high school, said Brittany Edmondson, J.D., Ed.S., ME.d. academy coach at Pearl-Cohn.
Many of these students are the first in their families to consider higher education and may feel like they lack career opportunities and direction. The academy gives them confidence, and the mentors are an important part, she said.
“You start putting ripples in that cycle of violence and poverty, and you start setting them up for generational wealth when you offer this type of program,” she said. “Just having the opportunity to be in this space has been tremendous for them because it’s connecting. There is a sense of pride. You have a lot of bright students. They’ve had moments where there’s no direction. So for them now to have direction, it makes them excited. It makes them hopeful. They have choices.”
By partnering with health care organizations such as VUMC, the students also have opportunities for clinical experience that makes them more hirable, according to Edmondson.
“The academy demonstrates Vanderbilt’s commitment to engaging with the community and increasing paths for diversity. I am excited to engage with the next generation of Vanderbilt nurses,” said VUMC Executive Chief Nursing Officer Marilyn Dubree, M.S.N., R.N., N.E.-B.C.
Edmonson said the academy, which formed in the 2018-19 school year, now has 232 students who are interested in becoming a medical assistant, nurses’ aide or patient care tech. Of those, 19 are in the mentorship program with VUMC.
Mentors will meet with students throughout the year and discuss various topics that are foundational to an individual’s success as a health care professional.
“The discussions will focus on familiarizing the young students with the complexities of health care, including social determinants of health and their ability to address their community’s health challenges,” Williams said. “We will talk about how to move from one clinical role to the next, what’s expected of you as someone providing care to patients, how you communicate with patients while being sensitive to their state of vulnerability.”
After graduation, students may qualify to attend VUMC’s Care Partner Academy, a tuition-free, full-time training opportunity for people interested in becoming care partners. After that program, which lasts about a month, participants will be employed as care partners at VUMC.
Williams noted that once high school graduates are employed as medical assistants or care partners at VUMC, there is also a pathway for them to pursue higher education and become a nurse. That pathway is backed by VUMC’s Nursing Tuition Benefit, which covers up to $8,000 in tuition charges per fiscal year for full-time employees enrolled in accredited associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree programs in Nursing.
All this is possible “when you have a mentor,” Edmondson said, “someone who looks like you, who says ‘I too have your story, but you can be this and here’s how you get there.’”