Angel McCullough is the director of nursing at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, but she recently got a new assignment. Every Tuesday, she visits around a dozen elementary schools in the city to give a lesson on nursing and basic human medicine.
It’s part of a new program called the “Mini Nurse Academy,” which is designed to get young students interested in nursing. The initiative was created by the National Black Nurses Association as a way of encouraging more people of color to enter the field. Just 8% of all nurses in the U.S. are black even though black people make up around 14% of the country’s population.
“If we’re going to be serious about improving diversity within the nursing workforce, then we have to move back to those younger grades and begin to educate and inspire,” said Dr. Martha Dawson, National Black Nurses Association president.
The mini academy is an eight-week program for kids in grades three to six in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods. It grew out of a pilot program in Birmingham, Alabama and has since expanded to nine other states, including Pennsylvania.
“Who knows what this word is?” McCollough recently asked a room full of fifth graders at General George Meade School.
Several registered and advanced practice nurses lend their time and expertise to the academy once a week. They teach the kids about the history of nursing and what it’s like to work in a hospital. Students learn how to take a person’s blood pressure and check for a pulse. They also study different parts of the body and even practice CPR.
“They got a big kick out of saving a life, that was like the biggest thing,” said school nurse Lisa Simpson. “The parents actually said something about it to me afterwards, because they were so excited, they learned something they could actually dig their teeth into and go home with.”
During last week’s session, McCollough had the class build model lungs and hearts out of water bottles, red food coloring, and balloons.
Introducing children to medicine at a young age can help them prepare for a career in healthcare at a later age. Many of them won’t become doctors or nurses, but a few of them might.
“Studies have shown that if we have more diverse individuals in the health care workforce, then we will have better health outcomes for the population,” said Monica Harmon, chapter president of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Area Black Nurses Association.
The demonstrations show kids that taking care of others for a living can be extremely rewarding. It can also get them thinking about their future in new ways.
“Some of the children may not come from families that went to college, graduated,” Harmon said. “So, we want to plant that seed.”
By the end of the lesson, a nine-year-old named Skylah said she has a pretty good idea of what nurses do. “They help people stay alive, they check their blood pressure, they check their heart, they give them needles to make sure they’re OK,” she said.
She will be one of the academy’s first graduates when she finishes the program at the end of the school year.
The National Black Nurses Association received a donation of $40,000 from Aetna Health and CVS in honor of National Nurses Month last May. The group says the money was used to create five new scholarships and two new Mini Nurse Academies in designated areas.
“Nurses are critical to the health and wellbeing of our members and the population at large,” said Julie Bietsch, Senior Vice President, Aetna Clinical Services.
“We are honored to partner with and donate to the NBNA, which serves as the professional voice for over 200,000 African American active and retired nurses and nursing students within the U.S. and around the globe. Their work significantly increases the nursing career opportunities for persons of color, which is essential to solving the significant health equity challenges that people of color face.”