Scholarship Program Shows Incremental Improvement in Representation of Men, Minorities in Nursing

When it comes to increasing the proportion of male nurses, leaders in the field say schools of nursing should study the lessons of the New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) scholarship program — perhaps the most large-scale effort to date focused on broadening the diversity of the nursing profession.

“We really have had an impact on changing the face of nursing in terms of bringing many more persons into the profession,” says Vernell P. DeWitty, deputy director of the national program with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

[Above: A student in the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing]

Launched in 2008 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the AACN, NCIN provides scholarships to college graduates without a nursing degree who are enrolled in either an accelerated baccalaureate or master’s nursing program. Through the initiative, 130 schools of nursing have received a total of $35.1 million to award 3,517 scholarships worth $10,000 each.

DeWitty says that more than 40 percent of the scholarships have been granted to men. And, in line with the program’s focus on increasing diversity, she says those men have represented many different races, ethnicities, and backgrounds.

A 2015 Educational Testing Service (ETS) evaluation of NCIN found that the program has, in fact, contributed to increased diversity in participating nursing schools. The evaluation stated that schools of nursing should “aim to build on the progress seeded by NCIN in the areas of student diversity, cultural competence training, and student support services.”

Financial and Academic Support
While men may shy away from nursing for various reasons, they provide unique perspectives and skills that can be crucial to the field, according to the Institute of Medicine’s 2011 report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Health, Advancing Change.

While the national average of men in bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) programs is 10 percent, at eight NCIN case study schools, 45 percent of scholarship recipients have been men, according to the ETS evaluation. The program has achieved similar results with minorities.

“We have made a concentrated effort to focus on those [groups] to try to increase their percentage in the nursing student population,” says David Krol, a senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

David Krol, a senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
David Krol, a senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

NCIN scholarships have helped these students in an area in which not much aid is typically available. Students in second-degree programs like NCIN are not eligible for Pell Grants; thus, NCIN scholarships provide them with much-needed financial assistance.

Yet, while scholarships are a large focus of the program, Krol says NCIN’s success is built on much more.

“Yes, $10,000 is extremely important and makes a significant difference,” says Krol, “but we feel it is [about] much more than just the money — it is all of the support given to students.”

This support includes a pre-entry immersion program that helps students transition into an accelerated nursing program; mentoring, through which students are matched with alumni or school leaders who provide support and guidance throughout the degree program; and leadership development activities, such as guest speaker events at which nursing professionals discuss nursing careers and leadership roles.

Program officials have also developed “tool kits” in each of those areas to help schools of nursing increase diversity within their programs. The kits, which are available on the NCIN website, come in the form of step-by-step handbooks. The tool kit on mentoring, for example, is an 88-page guide that touches on topics ranging from how to match a mentor with a student to how to manage issues that might arise in the mentoring relationship.

These efforts have benefited many individuals, such as Onome Oskopo, for instance — a former food analytical chemist who decided to go into nursing after working to help individuals with developmental disabilities live independently.

Onome Oskopo, an NCIN scholarship recipient who is completing a master of science in nursing at the University of Pennsylvania
Onome Oskopo, an NCIN scholarship recipient who is completing a master of science in nursing at the University of Pennsylvania

That experience led Oskopo, who originally hails from Nigeria, to believe he should be helping people instead of working in a lab.

“Nursing was the logical choice because it provided an opportunity for direct care, and to influence healthcare in the U.S. and across the world,” says Oskopo, who is currently completing a master of science in nursing in the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program at the University of Pennsylvania.

He is also doing a clinical rotation in the emergency room at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center and serves as a member of the Graduate Nursing Student Academy Policy Committee within the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Oskopo first learned about the NCIN program when he was accepted to the 12-month accelerated BSN program at Stony Brook University in 2011. He applied for and received a $10,000 NCIN scholarship. “The money was particularly helpful to offset the cost of living during the program,” Oskopo says.

Beyond the financial assistance, he says the program enabled him to succeed. In particular, he says the pre-immersion program helped him address areas such as stress management, time management, self-care strategies, and strategies for success in an accelerated program.

“Frequent meetings with my peers and the program liaison at Stony Brook were a constant source of inspiration, support, and empowerment,” Oskopo says.

“The program introduced me to excellent mentors who have greatly shaped my career trajectory in nursing,” he adds. “The program created a platform for me to influence nursing, nursing education, and healthcare in ways I never imagined.”

Evaluating Success
While the scholarships have had a noticeable impact, just how much of an impact remains uncertain. And while experts seem to agree on the importance of increasing the number of men in nursing professions, they admit that doing so is also accompanied by challenges.

An evaluation of the NCIN program states that “men tend to advance more rapidly in the nursing field than their female peers.” It also notes that research has shown that male nurses out-earn female nurses doing the same work.

In addition, faculty theorized that some male scholarship recipients didn’t really need the scholarships and would have entered the program regardless. In fact, some male nursing students actually conceded that the scholarship was an “unexpected bonus.”

Program leaders say it’s important to keep in mind that while NCIN made a difference, the program’s efforts were relatively small given that the program provided scholarships for only 3,500 students. However, many believe that if schools of nursing were to follow NCIN’s example, the program’s impact could be sustained.●

Jamaal Abdul-Alim is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.