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From High School to Health Care: East High Partnership Creates Pathway for Teens

  By Gianluca D'Elia
  Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Assistant Professor Dee Dee Rutigliano leads an exercise with East High scholars in one of the School of Nursing's simulation suites.

Dressed in a white coat and standing in front of a colorful research poster on heat stroke prevention in Evarts Lounge, Martha Beltran was just weeks away from graduating from high school as she presented the final project for her Pathways to Nursing course this past April. She would soon be moving on to her next chapter: attending Niagara University on a full scholarship, with a major in nursing.

Beltran is among more than two dozen students who participated in the School of Nursing and East High School’s Career Exploration Internship program. The grant-funded initiative is one of several partnership programs developed between the high school and the University of Rochester, which became East’s educational partnership organization in 2015.

“This course has helped me get closer to my goal of becoming a nurse and gave me great exposure,” said Beltran, who also works at Strong Memorial Hospital as a nurse assistant.

The career exploration program affirmed Beltran’s choice to pursue a career she had already been thinking about for most of her life. “I’ve always known I wanted to be a nurse since I was little. I even remember my mom getting me a doctor’s coat for kids and a toy stethoscope.”

Fall 2022 East High students arrive for the Pathways to Nursing course and meet URMC leaders.Led by Master’s of Nursing Education (MNE) students and faculty, the Pathways to Nursing course introduces students to the multitude of career paths within nursing. It starts with an overview of local health care systems and introduces students to medical terminology, first aid, self and family care, and basic clinical skills. Students also explore public health issues such as nutrition, immunizations, home safety, disease prevention and health promotion.

The course was first launched in 2018, and paused during the pandemic. In Fall 2022, it took place at the School of Nursing for the first time, offering students hands-on experience in the skills lab, simulation suites and other learning spaces at the School’s newly opened expansion. Two full-day field trips provide clinical skills demonstrations and simulations, tours of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), and guest speakers from URMC’s Teen Health & Success Partnership Program.

Caitlyn Paris-Woods ’23N (MS), who co-taught and planned the course as her MNE capstone project, called the opportunity to bring students to the School of Nursing’s new facilities a blessing.

“These students thrive by providing hands-on experiences,” Paris-Woods said. “By starting our course with a tour of the new wing, students become instantly fascinated and inquisitive about the world of nursing.”

Program leaders hope that Pathways to Nursing can be part of the long-term solution to significant challenges in nursing and health care, such as the national nurse shortage, distrust in health care systems among marginalized communities, and the need for a more diverse nursing workforce. The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey reported that more than 80 percent of working registered nurses are white. East’s student population is more than half Black, and about one-third Hispanic or Latino.

East High student Martha Beltran listens to pediatric nurse practitioner Andrew Udkovich during a lesson in the School of Nursing skills lab.

“The University and the School of Nursing are committed to diversifying our workforce so that our caregivers look like the patient population we work with,” Maria Marconi, ’14W (EdD), RN, CNE, director of the MNE program and an assistant professor of clinical nursing. “One way to diversify our staff nursing workforce, as well as our future faculty nurses, is to have evidence-based pipeline programs like this, where we engage with high school students and help them plan their careers.”

Outside of the nursing profession, there are wider community implications too, Marconi said. By offering an inside look at how a hospital operates, the course ultimately prepares students to be better consumers, and seeks to increase trust between the health care system and communities.

“Many of our students are the only English-speakers in their homes, and many of them serve as decision-makers and translators between their family members and health care institutions. When these students have more knowledge about health issues and health care resources, it helps their families significantly. Indirectly, it also helps us ensure a healthier community.”

For MNE graduate students, the program also ensures community-based experiences in which they can work with diverse student populations.

Stephanie Schechter ’23N (MS) joined Paris-Woods in the Pathways course to develop a mentorship program for East scholars in partnership with the Rochester Black Nurses Association. Both of them plan to continue staying involved in the program after graduation.

The mentoring program aims to enhance students’ experiences in Pathways, both through informal, general mentoring, and through one-on-one connections with nurses working in the clinical areas students are most interested in. In a field that might not always reflect the student population she works with, Schechter also hopes that mentors can foster a stronger sense of belonging.

Stephanie Schechter shows students how to use a fingertip pulse oximeter.“There aren’t necessarily mentors out there who have gone through similar experiences or have similar backgrounds to our students,” Schechter said. “That’s the motivation behind this mentoring program. I’m hoping to give them a well-rounded amount of support.”

Shaun Nelms ’04W (MS), ’13W (EdD), the University’s new vice president for community partnerships and former superintendent of East, said Pathways to Nursing is one of the most successful career technical education partnerships at the high school, with a high rate of students going on to pursue health science jobs and college degrees.

“Partnering with the School of Nursing is allowing our students to see themselves contributing to the field of medicine,” Nelms said. “They’re meeting professionals — particularly, professionals of color — and they are able to imagine being in those spaces because others before them are making an impact and leading in the field.”

The idea of improving representation in the nursing field drew East senior Marcus Moore to the program in Fall 2022. Moore, a student athlete, received an offer to attend Utica University.

“There are not a lot of Black men and Black staff in the nursing field. For me to actually be doing this as a Black teen in this program, it pushes me to be an example for other kids,” Moore said at the fall reception.

Paris-Woods has seen several of the students she instructed over the past year go onto pursue degrees at local nursing schools and secure jobs as patient care technicians and home health aides.

“The most rewarding part of this program is hearing the excitement from the students when they tell us that they have found success in health care, whether through a job or a college acceptance,” she said.

As the program prepares to welcome new East High scholars in Fall 2023, leaders on both ends of the partnership are enthusiastic about its continued growth.

“This project is an example of everything that we envisioned in 2015 when the UR-East partnership began,” Nelms said. “To see cohorts of students thriving with the guidance of professional nurses is a dream come true.”

Categories: Nursing Education, Diversity, Community

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