New Mexico comprises a burgeoning mix of cultures, with the second largest percentage of Native Americans and the largest percentage of Hispanics of any state. Its multicultural makeup has even earned it the designation as the sixth most diverse state in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
With this diversity, however, comes a responsibility to ensure that health professionals are equipped to respond to and treat the unique healthcare needs of all segments of the state’s population. To help achieve this goal, the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) College of Pharmacy and College of Nursing are both working to attract and prepare underrepresented students to serve individuals of all backgrounds and lifestyles.
“Ideally, we would like the healthcare workforce to mirror the diverse communities that make up our state,” says Lynda Welage, PharmD, dean of the UNM College of Pharmacy.
Early Exposure to Healthcare Careers
Toward that end, both colleges partner with the UNM Health Sciences Center Office for Diversity to host a series of pipeline programs. Beginning with the Dream Makers Health Careers Program (DMHCP), they offer middle school students the opportunity to embark on the path to careers in healthcare.
Ten to 15 middle schools throughout the state participate annually in the program, which brings students to UNM’s campus year-round to engage in after-school, health-related activities. Students can sign up for DMHCP through their science or math teacher or school counselor, and those with at least a 2.5 GPA, positive teacher recommendations, good attendance record, and expressed interest in learning more about healthcare are eligible to participate.
The program is focused on recruiting minority, first-generation, and economically disadvantaged students to encourage them to pursue careers in healthcare. An additional aim of DMHCP is to increase cultural diversity and understanding in the health professions.
Through DMHCP, program participants have the opportunity to use real-life nursing equipment and pharmaceutical materials, offering them a glimpse into these professions. Activities vary based on which UNM colleges are involved. For example, Donald Godwin, the executive associate dean for education at UNM College of Pharmacy and an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, says the pharmacy school often has the middle school students make simple compounds, such as lip balm. Pharmacy students lead these demonstrations, working alongside the middle schoolers.
DMHCP is also open to high school students; they have the additional option to apply for a six-week summer program in which they will prepare for the ACT, take rigorous math and science courses, and engage in education around “cultural humility.”
Welage says the program has been an effective source of recruitment for the pharmacy school, specifically helping increase its enrollment of minority and underrepresented students.
Sensitive Healthcare for the LGBTQ Community
Historically, the LGBTQ community has not always been respected by the healthcare community. In fact, according to the Center for American Progress, 8 percent of gay people and 27 percent of transgender individuals have been refused healthcare services, while 11 percent and 15 percent, respectively, report they have experienced abusive language from a healthcare provider.
UNM’s College of Nursing is committed to addressing and reducing these barriers to care for this community and increasing the sensitivity of healthcare providers. It works to do so by graduating culturally competent, respectful nurses — something that is partially achieved via Safe Zone trainings.
Carolyn Montoya, the associate dean of academic affairs and an associate professor in the UNM College of Nursing, explains that two years ago, the college began encouraging faculty and students to attend Safe Zone, a tolerance training program provided by UNM’s LBGTQ Resource Center. Part of a national initiative, it aims to give participants a deeper understanding and awareness of the LGBTQ community through workshops, class presentations, and a terminology introduction.
However, the College of Nursing delves deeper by educating students, faculty, and staff on the importance of nurses becoming advocates for these marginalized individuals. The school does this by bringing guest speakers to campus and encouraging open discussions of personal experiences.
“Community members came and spoke about their experiences, told their stories, and reflected on what healthcare providers could have done differently to make them feel more comfortable,” Montoya says. “It was the most insightful part of the training.”
Trainings vary in length depending on level. LGBTQ 101 is a 1.5-hour introductory session that focuses on microaggressions, basic terminology, and how to become an ally. The course gives participants the knowledge necessary to go on to the four-hour training, which educates on hate, homophobia, negativity, and advocacy.
“I learned about terminology I had not yet been exposed to and how the intricacies of language and words are powerful and matter in our interactions with communities and those in need of our care,” says Lisa Marie Turk, a PhD candidate in the College of Nursing who is also a first-generation college student.
Montoya says that many healthcare professionals aren’t aware of the appropriate questions to ask LGBTQ patients. “Even if you think you know a lot about the LGBTQ community, there’s so much you don’t know and need to ask,” she says. “For example, providers need to be aware that someone going through gender transition — from female to male, for instance — may continue to need pap smears at the recommended intervals depending on their individualized transition plan. The bottom line, regardless of the situation or patient, [is that] nurses need to be respectful in the way they communicate and provide care.”
These lessons, Turk believes, are universal — and provide the key to addressing healthcare disparities.
“The concepts [of] familiarity, acceptance, and understanding comprise the cornerstone of not only the profession of nursing, but humanity as well,” Turk says. “It is imperative that healthcare professionals have an accurate understanding of the specific needs of those experiencing health inequities.”●
Madeline Szrom is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. The University of New Mexico’s College of Pharmacy and College of Nursing are 2016 INSIGHT Into Diversity Health Professions HEED Award recipients.