Starting early: Introducing nursing in schools to tackle the nursing shortage and foster diversity

Nurse Journal in the United States has published an article that explores the benefits of introducing career counselling in primary/elementary schools in a bid to help introduce the health profession to diverse and underrepresented communities. The full article can be viewed here, with a summary of the findings below.

In an effort to combat the ongoing nursing shortage and create a more diverse and balanced nursing workforce, experts in the US are exploring the idea of introducing nursing as early as elementary school. Career exploration and training programs targeted at young students have shown promising results in generating interest in nursing, increasing representation, and ultimately improving health outcomes for a diverse nation.

While career education training is typically introduced in high school, experts argue that starting as early as elementary school can have significant benefits. Alisha Hyslop, senior director of public policy for the Association for Career and Technical Education, emphasises the importance of helping children understand career options from an early age, allowing them to make informed decisions about their future.

According to Jennifer Curry, PhD, a school counsellor education professor, career exploration should align with the developmental stages of children. By introducing career concepts and training at appropriate stages, children can build a foundation for future career choices. Elementary school years, particularly fourth and fifth grade, are crucial for career development, as children begin to understand the lifelong nature of learning and can actively explore and select career options.

Several elementary schools across the United States have already implemented career training programs, including the Mini Nurse Academy (MNA). The MNA, a national educational program developed by the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA), introduces nursing as a career option to third- through sixth-grade students, primarily from underrepresented communities. The program aims to diversify the nursing workforce by providing early exposure to nursing skills and culturally specific curriculum content.

Danaya Hall, RN, MSN, WHNP-BC, a founding president of the Alliance of Black Nurses Association of Oregon and an MNA committee member, emphasises the role of early exposure and career modelling in increasing diversity in nursing. By interacting with Black nursing professionals and witnessing diversity in action, children can envision themselves as future nurses.

Introducing nursing to elementary students offers several benefits. Firstly, it increases interest in nursing as a career choice, potentially attracting more young individuals to the profession. Secondly, it addresses the underrepresentation of certain communities in nursing, particularly Black, indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) communities. By exposing children from underrepresented backgrounds to nursing, programs like the MNA aim to inspire them and pave the way for a more diverse nursing workforce.

Lastly, a diverse nursing workforce is essential for improving health outcomes, especially among marginalised communities. Historical and perceived discrimination has led to mistrust of the healthcare system within these communities. Having a diverse nursing workforce, including BIPOC nurses, helps build trust and provides culturally sensitive care.

By introducing nursing early on and promoting diversity in the profession, the hope is to alleviate the nursing shortage, increase representation, and improve health outcomes for an increasingly diverse population. Programs like the MNA serve as a model for incorporating nursing education into elementary school curricula, fostering a strong foundation for future nurses and creating a more balanced nursing workforce.



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