Role models encourage nursing students of color to believe that “they can make it”

Nursing students find conversations with diverse nursing professionals to be educational, uplifting, and inspiring

Screenshots of nursing students and mentors
The Diversity Nursing Scholars Program is hosting virtual conversations with professional nurses at area hospitals who encourage students to persevere in their nursing studies and careers.

The College of Nursing & Health Sciences’ (CNHS) Diversity Nursing Scholars Program has partnered with Steward Healthcare for a series of conversations between nursing professionals and first-year nursing students of color. These Professional Integration Conversations began last semester with nurses from St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River and St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford—both of which are clinical sites for CNHS students—and Carney Hospital in the Boston area.

According to CNHS Student Support Coordinator Dr. Rekha Rosha, “The goal of these conversations is to improve students’ awareness of the nursing profession as well as to provide a clear message to our first-year students of color that they matter and that they have the support they need to succeed.”

These sessions have resulted in strong student attendance and positive feedback. Students report that seeing a nursing professional who looks like them inspires them to continue working hard to succeed in becoming a professional nurse. Based on the positive feedback, the series is continuing this semester.

Purposeful conversations prove to students that others have overcome challenges successfully

In her work as an academic advisor for CNHS, Rosha heard from students that they wanted to learn more about nursing, pre- and post-licensure, from nurses who shared similar cultural backgrounds and to build connections, especially in this time of online learning and social distancing. Rosha reached out to Tracy Gerety-Ibbotson, administrative director of community benefits at St. Anne’s, who led the effort to recruit successful nursing professionals of color to share their educational and professional experiences and answer questions from students.

The results of these efforts, according to Gerety-Ibbotson, is “a purposeful and purpose-filled conversation for both the presenter and the UMassD students.”

While the dialogue between nurses and our nursing majors is important, according to Rosha, “these conversations achieve more than discussion alone. As our liaison at Steward said, ‘Nothing says you got this more effectively than someone who has faced the same or similar challenges and succeeded. [This type of] credibility built on truth and trust is what we’ve been able to share with UMassD’s students.’”

Speakers have included CNHS alumna Celeste Singh, RN ’20 (Brigham & Women’s Hospital); Dominque Dupont-Dubois, RN, MPA (Carney Hospital); Sandra Ramos, RN (Carney Hospital); and Daphnee Fernandes, RN (Carney Hospital). These nursing professionals have provided clear and thoughtful descriptions of their educational journey and what motivates them as a nurse.

“After Dominque’s talk, several students shared with me that hearing from a nurse who looked like them and spoke in concrete terms about the workload, both as a nursing student and a professional nurse, gave them even more confidence about achieving success,” added Rosha.

Screenshot of nurse speaking to nursing students
Dominque Dupont-Dubois, RN, MPA at Carney Hospital, speaks to UMass Dartmouth nursing students during one of the Professional Integration Conversations.

Talking to professionals of color is “like going to a family reunion”

The average attrition rate for baccalaureate nursing students can be up to 50 percent, and for minority students the rates can be even higher. A Sullivan Commission on Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce study found that the lack of diversity within the nursing profession “may be an even greater cause of disparities in health access and outcomes than the persistent lack of health insurance for tens of millions of Americans.”

 “Anytime I see a black nurse working at the hospital, I become motivated instantly, and think to myself, ‘If she can do it, so can I,’” said Charita Osafo ‘24. “Imagining my future and seeing people doing what I want to do motivates me to study and to tell myself that I can’t give up on my dreams.”

William Reid Tuttle ’24 said he found comfort in seeing nurses who looked like him. “Hearing the stories of nurses of color helped put a face on a phenomenon I can’t really describe. It’s almost like going to a family reunion and seeing a favorite cousin among the strangers, reassured by the presence of at least one familiar face.”

Added Perla Michelle Tejeda Hernandez, ’24, “Women of color are so important in the medical field because they can provide a different background, mindset, and knowledge that can contribute to a team to provide the best to patients and others.”

“I know that some people like me face so many challenges to become a nurse, so it has inspired me to keep going and study more,” said Stephora Saint Paulin, ‘24.

In addition to being inspired by nurses of color, participating students also learned from them. Joanna Duarte Fernandes ’23, said, “I love seeing and talking to people in the field that are doing what I want to be doing in the future. Learning about where they came from and the challenges they faced eases some of the stress that I am feeling now.”

Tuttle said he learned that nursing education continues well beyond the NCLEX exam and that it takes nurses anywhere between 6-12 months to acclimate to their new environment and responsibilities.

“One thing that stayed with me is how everyone has their different career paths into nursing. What is crucial to any pathway, though, is to be able to accomplish your dream,” said Hernandez. “[These conversations] connect me to nurses already in the field who have passed through situations similar to what I and other classmates are passing through and it helps give us the strength to keep pushing when things get hard.”

“These conversations were great and provided me with a lot of information that would be useful to future nurses as they offered a good picture of what is required for a nursing student to succeed through the program,” said Andrew Nicholas Kafumbe, ‘24.

Ramos, a nurse at Carney Hospital who hopes to become a nursing educator, shared her motivation for nursing. “Who are the patient’s family when family members can’t be there? It’s us, the nurses. It’s a profession to help people to go home, healthy, to their families, and what could be better than that?,” she said. 

Departments College of Nursing Health Sciences, College of Nursing - Home