GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With the help of a new grant, academic leaders at Grand Valley State University, in partnership with McLaren Health Care and Spectrum Health, are working to create more diversity in the nursing industry.

Earlier this year, the Kirkhof College of Nursing received a $2.2 million grant to give working nurses from underrepresented backgrounds an opportunity to further their education. 

Faculty with GVSU’s nursing school say they’ve had a long-standing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. When they were awarded the grant, they reached out to their health partners McLaren and Spectrum to brainstorm how to increase nursing workforce diversity by focusing on creating more opportunities for nurses with disadvantaged backgrounds and minorities.

“In our society today, if you’re living in a certain community that doesn’t have a lot of resources, that really limits your opportunities to expand. In our instance, nursing, their advanced nursing education,” said Katherine Moran, associate dean for graduate nursing programs with GVSU’s Kirkhof College of Nursing. 

The grant money removes some of those barriers, giving working nurses a chance to apply for three different educational tracks. Those include a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice. 

“We look across the state of Michigan and perhaps the state of the nation and we recognize that there are health disparities within many counties,” said Janet Winter, associate dean for undergraduate programs in nursing.

Many of those disparities were brought to the forefront during the pandemic. Sojourner Green, a nurse at McLaren Flint, saw that firsthand. 

“What we saw during COVID on my personal unit was a lot of African American patients. I live in a predominately African American community, and I was just thinking like we need to do something. I didn’t know what we needed to do, but I knew that something needed to be done,” she said. 

When Green first learned about the grant funding opportunity, she was leery, but later realized it could be the first step towards making an impact on her community. 

“I feel like me becoming a leader and getting the skillset behind me to be able to communicate some things with the people of my community and just gain trust with some of the people may be through churches, through school. Just allowing, first of all, children to see wow, someone is a professional that looks like me… I think that that’s important and then also just being able to relate to some people in the community,” Green said. 

Nina Hudgins, a nurse at Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, which partners with McLaren, offered a similar sentiment. 

“The patients are always the driving force for many of us nurses to come into work and do our job every day,” Hudgins said. “If I get this DNP that it’ll put me in a position where I can be more of an advocate. Not only in the inpatient hospital setting but you know, maybe in the government dealing with policies and implementing new practices to help our overall community.”

Both Green and Hudgins said when patients come in for care and don’t see anyone that looks like them, it can lead to a lack of trust. 

“Minorities are looking for people in health care to look like them so then they can understand their experience,” Hudgins said. “This is something that is needed across the board in health care. Then being an African American woman, I do want to be an example to my community that you can go further, you can become that doctor, you can effect change and you can do that through education.”

Throughout the program’s four years, a total of 60 students will earn degrees with the majority in the RN-BSN program. Leaders at the two health organizations can recruit nurses to enroll. 

The Nursing Workforce Diversity grant is open to McLaren and Spectrum nurses who self-identify as coming from an underrepresented minority group or who come from an educationally or economically disadvantaged background. 

Nurses can find out if they meet the eligibility requirements by filling out an online form.