Fellowship aimed at diversifying the nursing workforce celebrates a meaningful milestone

First cohort of CURE fellows graduates

When Bridget Acquah walked onto the hematology floor at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) in June of 2023 to begin her final co-op rotation of UC’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, she quickly realized that none of the other care providers looked like her.

“We have a lot of sickle cell patients who come on the hematology floor and the people who treat them don’t [typically] look like them, so sometimes they can’t express how they feel or tell [if their providers hear and understand them],” says Acquah, who emigrated from her home country of Ghana, West Africa, to Cincinnati with her family in 2019.

Acquah recalls an instance where a Black female patient didn’t feel comfortable answering questions asked by her social worker or Acquah’s nursing preceptor, who were both white. Recognizing that the patient might feel more comfortable with her, Acquah spoke with the patient privately to learn how they could best care for her. She then acted as the patient’s voice by communicating her concerns and needs to her care team.

Racial and ethnic concordance between patients and providers correlates to higher levels of perceived patient satisfaction of care, quality of healthcare, and trust, according to research by The National Center for Biotechnology Information. However, the lack of underrepresented minority (URM) providers makes it difficult to ensure racial and ethnic concordance for all patients.

To help prepare and expand a nursing workforce that is reflective of and responsive to an increasingly diverse patient population, UC College of Nursing launched its Cultivating Undergraduate Nursing Resilience and Equity (CURE) program in the fall of 2021. The college received a four-year $1.7 million Nursing Workforce Diversity grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to invest in the program, which is rounding out its third year and steered by Program Director Donna Green, PhD, MSN, RN C-EFM, associate professor and nursing department chair, as well as Deputy Director Ann Gakumo, PhD, RN, associate professor and associate dean for inclusion and community impact.

If it wasn’t for CURE, I don’t know how many loans I would have piled up by now. It gave me the courage to go to nursing school.

Bridget Acquah CURE Fellow, Class of 2024

Acquah is one of seven students who, as part of the first graduating cohort of CURE fellows, earned a BSN from UC this spring thanks to the financial, academic, and social support provided through the CURE program. As a first-generation college student, she says the program allowed her to focus on her studies and not stress about finances.

“The CURE program has been a lifesaver” says Acquah, who completed her freshman year at Cincinnati State Technical Community College to save on tuition before transferring to UC and becoming a program fellow in the fall of 2021. “If it wasn’t for CURE, I don’t know how many loans I would have piled up by now. It gave me the courage to go to nursing school.”

A Look at the CURE Program’s Impact

CURE Cohort class of 2024

From left to right: Ann Gakumo, Emily Cole, Dorcas Sarbah, Caroline Kwiatkowski, Bridget Aquah, Lauyrn James, Roselyn Torkornoo, Aylessa Carter, Naiah Mensha, Donna Green

The CURE program was designed to center on four objectives that build on successful evidence-based strategies already in place at the college:
  • Increase the sophomore application rate of disadvantaged/URM students to the BSN program to 20%;
  • Provide comprehensive financial, academic, and social support for 35 disadvantaged/URM students;
  • Embed curricula and experiential learning addressing targeted health disparities in Hamilton County, using maternal mortality as an exemplar; and
  • Hire at least four new faculty from URM backgrounds.

The college has either achieved or made significant progress toward all four objectives. Since launching CURE, the college’s average sophomore URM application rate has more than doubled from 7% to 18.5%, which is supported by the college’s holistic admissions process. Additionally, the number of URM students who enroll each year in the BSN program has nearly tripled, with the URM enrollment average jumping from four students to 11 students.

In addition to the seven seniors who graduated this spring, 19 BSN students are receiving financial support through the program, and a fourth cohort of sophomore students will become fellows in the fall. All CURE fellows meet monthly with an academic advisor and receive emotional support from CURE Program Manager Emily Cole, who meets with them individually to help build their confidence and share resources like test-taking strategies, smart study habits, interview tips, and relevant books and podcasts. The social support aspect is bolstered by the sense of connectedness created by the cohort structure, as well as the program’s regular study table sessions and cross-cohort tutoring opportunities.

The program supplements UC’s nursing curriculum—which is underpinned in the social determinants of health—by integrating additional inclusive pedagogy, including instructional modules from public health and maternal health agencies. While the curriculum focuses on addressing racial and ethnic health disparities, it highlights specific content on disparities in maternal mortality and morbidity. A course on obstetrical nursing care, for example, incorporates materials from the CDC’s Hear Her campaign, which aims to increase awareness of urgent maternal warning signs during and after pregnancy and improve communication between patients and providers.

Fellows Roselyn Torkornoo and Bridget Acquah at CURE end-of-year celebration

Fellows Roselyn Torkornoo and Bridget Acquah at CURE end-of-year celebration

“Our fellows’ interests reinforce a lot of these curriculum components,” says Cole, who adds that several fellows have declared minors in public health, minority health, social work, and Africana studies. “They are voluntarily pursuing more schooling around the social determinants of health, and this particular population is doing so at a higher rate than most BSN students, which will be really impactful when they graduate and become nurses caring for those communities.”

CURE fellows also benefit from rotating seminar-like sessions that are designed to help them thrive. So, on top of their nursing coursework, they learn how to manage procrastination, build their professional profile, prepare for interviews, improve their financial literacy, and engage in experiential learning opportunities like co-ops, clinicals, and study abroad programs. An assistant chief nursing officer from UC Health also leads fellows through a resiliency workshop.

The college has also met its goal of hiring four new faculty from URM backgrounds, which supports its larger initiative to better reflect the diversity of the Greater Cincinnati community and broader U.S. population. Sustaining a program like CURE, which boasts a 100% retention rate, is part of the college’s greater diversity, equity and inclusion strategic initiatives. With grant funding set to expire next summer, the college plans to pursue additional funding to continue supporting current and future CURE fellows.

A Look at CURE Graduates’ Future Impact

Naiah Mensah planned on studying neuroscience at the University of Kentucky. The Louisville, Kentucky, native changed course during the final months of her senior year of high school when she learned about UC’s co-op program and the nursing college’s direct admission program. She was accepted into the direct admission program and became a CURE fellow as a sophomore in the fall of 2021. Now, after graduating alongside Acquah in April as the BSN 2024 Senior Class President and a College of Nursing Student Ambassador, Mensah is excited to work as a labor and delivery nurse at University of Cincinnati Medical Center (UCMC).

Mensah fell in love with labor and delivery when she witnessed her first vaginal birth during an obstetrics co-op rotation last spring. The mother who was giving birth wasn’t receiving emotional support from family members due to cultural reasons. Recognizing that she could support her, Mensah held the patient’s hand and coached her through the birthing process while offering words of encouragement.

“It was the most beautiful experience because I got to see her before she was a mom, while she was in labor, and then after her baby was delivered and she was officially a mother,” Mensah recalls. “It makes me feel so in love with life and that this is where I’m supposed to be.”

Underrepresented patients don’t always have people to advocate for them. As a nurse, I want to make a difference in their lives and be an advocate for them...

Naiah Mensah CURE Fellow, Class of 2024

In her role at UCMC, Mensah will care for a lot of Black mothers and underrepresented patients from lower socio-economic backgrounds. She’s determined to champion health equity and serve as an advocate for safe and fair care for all patients.

“Underrepresented patients don’t always have people to advocate for them. As a nurse, I want to make a difference in their lives and be an advocate for them,” Mensah says. “I know that all [my fellow CURE graduates] are going to do that. Every single young woman in CURE will do that because that’s just what we do.”

Several of the recently graduated CURE fellows plan to work in women’s health and maternal health–adjacent areas. Acquah, for example, will be working in the neonatal care unit at CCHMC. Besides her passion for caring for babies, Acquah chose to start her nursing career at CCHMC due to its initiatives to increase staff diversity. She wants to be part of the hospital’s efforts to increase racial and ethnic concordance for patients who look like her. And, who knows, maybe one day a young co-op nursing student will feel encouraged by her presence.

Featured Image at top: Front row, left to right: Dorcas Sarbah, Caroline, Kwiatkowski, Aylessa Carter, Bridget Aquah. Back row, left to right: Lauyrn James, Naiah Mensah, Roselyn Torkornoo

Written by: Katie Coburn

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