When meeting aspiring nurses at Bay Area schools, Josie Clevenger, RN, stresses the importance of not allowing anyone to stand in the way of their dreams.
Unfortunately, Clevenger said, Hispanic students and other minorities sometimes are told by teachers or guidance counselors that they can’t become nurses. Upon hearing this, Clevenger, outreach coordinator for the Coalition for Nursing Careers in California, gives the students her business cards to pass on to faculty to help open up important dialogue about the subject.
“No one should have their dreams taken away,” Clevenger said. “Besides talking to the students, we need to be talking to the teachers.”
Wearing a T-shirt featuring a stethoscope and the words “Proud to be a nurse,” Clevenger visits high schools, middle schools and elementary schools as part of the CNCC’s RN ambassador program. She works to inspire students, particularly underrepresented minorities, to consider careers in healthcare.
“What we’re trying to do is reach out to those students so we can level the playing field,” said Clevenger, a retired nurse recruiter whose 30-year career includes 12 years as a pediatric nurse and volunteer work for hospitals in Africa and along the Thai-Cambodian border.Josie Clevenger, RN, discusses nursing careers with Xavier Yabut.
“The majority of working nurses are white women, and yet we are a state of diversity and we are a country of diversity; our workforce should reflect that.”
Since Clevenger started working for the CNCC in 2008, the RN ambassador program has gone from reaching about 300 students to about 10,000 as of 2010. The program continues to expand throughout the state, including in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California, with Clevenger and other RN ambassadors visiting 32 schools last year. Clevenger encourages fellow RNs to become ambassadors in their areas, as well as nursing students looking to fulfill their community service requirements.
Clevenger said addressing groups of students as an RN is simple-topics range from why she became a nurse and chose her specialty, to how much it costs to attend nursing school. An interesting story never huts either.
“Every nurse has a stories, good or bad,” Clevenger said. “The kids have questions that will knock your socks off, and I guarantee when you do it once, you’ll be asked to come back.”
Future minority nursing school grads are crucial to the profession, Clevenger said, not just because of an impending nursing shortage, but a changing patient population in California.
As of 2010, 54% of nurses with active California licenses were white, said Deloras Jones, RN, MS, executive director for the California Institute for Nursing & Health Care. But the situation is improving, Jones said. Among students who completed nursing programs last year, 58.7% were ethnic minorities, she said.“No one should have their dreams taken away,” Clevenger said.
Born to a Mexican mother and Irish-American father, Clevenger gives an example of a patient who speaks little or no English being diagnosed with diabetes. It’s better for the patient if he or she is given the necessary instructions about diet, insulin and blood sugar testing from a nurse who speaks his or her language. Otherwise, there’s a potential for preventable readmissions.
“We need to understand not just the language, but the culture, or we’re going to have that revolving door syndrome,” she said.
Robert Patterson, RN, MSN, administrative director for the CINHC, agrees.
“There’s a huge disparity between Hispanic and Latino nurses and the populations they serve,” Patterson said. “There’s research that documents if like cultures care for like cultures, the outcomes are more favorable.”
The disparity also exists when it comes to gender, and men are among the underrepresented minorities in nursing, Patterson said. In addition to encouraging future nurses to apply themselves and work hard to achieve their goals, Clevenger leaves them with another message a nursing career is limitless.
“Nursing has many choices and components with an education that will last a lifetime,” Clevenger said.