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Grant Helps Interest Future Rural Nursing Students

   ASHLAND, Ore.

Mentorship helps make middle and high school relevant for geographically isolated Eagle Point and Phoenix/Talent students

A two-year grant awarded to Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing in Ashland targets geographically isolated, economically disadvantaged and minority students to get them interested in higher education and especially nursing careers.

Wendy Neander, R.N., M.N., assistant professor of nursing, Barbara Irvin, R.N., Ph.D., professor of nursing, and Donna Markle, R.N., M.S., associate professor of nursing, all from the OHSU School of Nursing, Ashland campus, and 12 nursing students are mentoring 24 Eagle Point Junior High and Phoenix/Talent Middle School students. The $39,000 grant comes from the Northwest Health Foundation as a way to support the state's efforts to reduce health disparities by developing recruitment strategies for minorities into health care professions. The grant is titled "Making School Relevant: Embarking on a Career in Nursing." This grant is also one way to ease a nursing shortage, especially in rural areas, said Neander, the principal investigator of the grant.

"We hope they'll think about becoming nurses and pursuing their nursing careers in rural communities," she said.

Saundra Theis, R.N., Ph.D., professor and associate dean, School of Nursing, Ashland campus, explained why this is important.

"With the increasing diversity of Oregon it is important to have health professionals who understand clients from diverse backgrounds.

"A goal is to have the nursing profession mirror the ethnicity of the population that is served. This project will help to recruit that diverse workforce," Theis said.

Many of the students participating were picked because they were not considering going to college. Many struggle with school for different reasons. The project is designed to help them overcome some of the barriers or difficulties they face in school.

"I am trying to expand these students' world vision. I hope to give them a broader vision of their futures and the confidence to know what they could do in the future. For many of these students, going on to anything beyond high school has not been an option for them. And for some, school is a struggle. This project gives them a reason why it's important to go to school and what their options are," Neander said.

"We are having them do assignments that meet the needed benchmarks for graduation. For example, for math skills, we do health screenings. They take the information on height and weight and then graph that," she said.

The students participated in screening about 400 elementary school students for vision, hearing, scoliosis, height and weight -- areas that the state identifies to promote and prevent health problems later in life. The students also talked to elementary students about the issues of hand washing, solving conflicts, brushing their teeth and creating a health club with the help of OHSU nursing students. They are making a peer counseling bulletin board for health questions and answers. The middle school students, along with their nursing student mentors, participated in a blood pressure screening clinic at a senior center. In the junior high school, they are working on team building and leadership skills. Participants in the program will also write articles for school newspapers about staying healthy. They are giving their input to Neander about how to best explain to youth about the dangers of smoking and illegal drug use, and how best to handle conflicts at home.

The project is scheduled to last two years.

"Our hope is that we can follow the students and see where they'll end up. We'll be tracking their progress to see if they stay in school. Focus groups will be conducted to evaluate what students have gained. Also, the success of the project will be evaluated," Neander said.

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