Diversity Recruitment and Retention: How NCIN Turned an Architect into a Nurse

Like many New Careers in Nursing Scholars, Jeremy Clark did not originally plan to become a nurse. When he first applied to college, he was particularly interested in industrial technology, drafting and design. He earned his first bachelor’s degree in architecture, but quickly found out that the field didn’t interest him as much as he had hoped. That’s when he began his unusual journey toward nursing. In August of 2013, he had the distinction of being the first African American male NCIN scholar to graduate from the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) School of Nursing.

Clark’s winding path to becoming a nurse includes working for a short time for a Nissan subsidiary and eventually as a substitute and then a full-time middle school teacher. It was while he was teaching that Clark decided he wanted to go into health care.

One day, one of his students was badly injured at school, and Clark had to hold the boy, who was bleeding profusely, and ride with him in the ambulance to the hospital. While many people might panic or feel dizzy at the sight of blood, Clark had the presence of mind to hold the boy’s spine straight and to quiz him with math questions to assess his neurological status. “It was then,” said Clark, “that I thought, ‘I may be suited for this kind of work.’”

He entered a pre-med program at Jackson State University (a historically black university) that included some courses at UMMC. In the course of conversations with counselors and advisors, he realized that as a doctor, he wouldn’t have much time to be with his two children. “That’s when I saw that nursing was the path,” said Clark. “And when the advisor suggested that I enroll in the accelerated BSN program at UMMC, I decided to apply. Until then, nursing had never been at the front of my mind. I always thought of nurses as women.”

Clark is now an RN in a burn step-down unit at Central Mississippi Medical Center and he has a completely different perspective on nursing. In March, he will begin working in a burn intensive care unit and plans to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist or nurse practitioner. He says that without the NCIN scholarship, it would have been much more difficult to make it through nursing school. “The financial assistance was a huge help, especially with two kids to raise. The scholarship took a huge burden off my shoulders.”

While Clark’s career path is surprising to him, it’s less surprising to Tina Martin, a professor of nursing, director of the accelerated BSN program at UMMC, and NCIN program liaison. “We have a very active recruitment program at UMC,” said Martin. “We collaborate with both historically black colleges and universities in the area – Tougaloo College and Jackson State. In fact, Tougaloo is a feeder school for medical and dental schools, and while we would never dissuade a student from pursuing a career in medicine or dentistry, we do reach out and educate them about the range of possible careers they could pursue in nursing.”

Kimberly Ferguson, the coordinator of student marketing and recruitment at the UMMC School of Nursing says that the NCIN scholarship is a wonderful benefit, especially to second career nurses. “There’s limited financial aid available for people getting second degrees,” said Ferguson. “When we interact with second degree students, financial aid is one of the first things they ask about. The scholarship can make the opportunity to become a nurse a reality.” Ferguson reports that she actively recruits for the accelerated BSN program at numerous events – 29 just last year, in settings as diverse as high schools, hospitals and professional meetings.

Of course, effective recruitment is only part of the equation. UMMC also works hard to retain students in the accelerated BSN program. “The leadership skills and the mentoring our NCIN scholars receive help us retain them once they’ve entered this rigorous program,” said Martin. “I also try to make sure our scholars are aware of campus events they might find interesting and that give them an opportunity to connect with other students in the health professions.”

Martin recently encouraged scholars to participate in an “interprofessional common book read” (similar to a book group) organized by the UMMC Multicultural Center focused on Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, a book about the patients, staff and families in New Orleans’ Memorial Hospital immediately following Hurricane Katrina.

“These kinds of events give our scholars the opportunity to interact with students other than nursing students, which is important,” said Martin.