Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

U-M nursing program increases diversity in health care, gets $1.5M grant

Deborah Kay Mitchell, 26, decided in high school to pursue nursing, and a decade later she's still excited to continue working in and learning about her field.

"I often wonder myself how a teenager could decide at that young age what she wanted to do and actually stick with it," says Mitchell, one of the successful graduates of the School of Nursing GENESIS (Gaining Excellence in Nursing Education: Strength in the Sciences) program — a pipeline for middle school and high school students and a retention program for admitted U-M students who are underrepresented in the health professions.

GENESIS, which has received a new $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in a third round of funding through June 2015, offers mentoring, pre-college support and summer programs. At the university level, GENESIS gives academic, financial and social support to targeted students admitted to U-M, says program director Patricia Coleman-Burns, assistant professor of nursing. Since 2002, 75 students have come through U-M in the GENESIS program.

Mitchell began considering a health-related career as a freshman at Ypsilanti High School, when she sought tutoring from U-M students in the Health Occupations Partnership in Education Program. Two years later, Mitchell applied to become a GENESIS scholar and later was accepted into the School of Nursing.

Mitchell says that as an African-American student at U-M, the extra support helped her feel "less isolated," and the program requirements forced her to apply herself in ways she might not have otherwise. She finished U-M in four years, and at the same time gave birth to a daughter. She passed her national boards and now practices nursing part-time while finishing graduate school. She'll graduate with a master's degree in nursing in December.

"That's a great story of how we can take these students all the way through," Coleman-Burns says. "My first goal is to get kids from underrepresented, disadvantaged or economically distressed communities into some college — I don't care which one. The second goal is to get them into a health profession, and the next goal is that they come into the nursing school at U-M, graduate and practice in the area."

The last goal is so important because the health care profession doesn't represent the ethnic or racial or diverse makeup of the overall populations it serves, she says. However, if highly trained four-year BSN nurses return to medically underserved communities or health professional shortage areas to work, it raises the quality of care.

A two-year generalist RN brings a different base of knowledge and skills to the profession, Coleman-Burns says, while a four-year BSN provides the scientific, evidence-based, scholarly and theoretical foundation to patient care associated with an education at a tier 1, research-intensive institution like U-M.

"We hope to graduate empowered nurses who are educated at the highest possible level, who will understand the unique needs of these populations," Coleman-Burns says.