Nurses of Color Finding More Financial Aid Avenues

Steph Weber

August 19, 2022

Dr Danielle McCamey

While the nursing workforce has grown more diverse, underrepresentation remains a persistent issue and one that has trickle-down implications for providing culturally competent care. Increasingly, national nursing leaders believe that monetary incentives can reduce educational barriers, attracting a broader range of individuals to the field and aiding marginalized groups in ascending to advanced nursing roles.

Financially supporting the educational endeavors of students of color, whether through grants, scholarships, or even improved access to loans, can offset the greater socioeconomic instability that minorities often face, ultimately creating an avenue not only for entry into nursing programs but improved retention efforts as well.

Due to limited financial means, students of color frequently work full time while pursuing a degree in order to afford tuition and school expenses, says Danielle McCamey, DNP, CRNP, ACNP-BC, an assistant dean at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and founder of DNPs of Color. The nonprofit nursing organization promotes diversity in doctoral studies, clinical practice, and leadership.

"We understand the importance of going back to get that education, so we're paying for school by working and then we're also supporting our families," McCamey says.

She says balancing those responsibilities without substantial financial assistance can prove too challenging and potentially contribute to the high rates of ethnic minority students who disenroll.

For example, first-generation college students — of which about 30% are students of color — are 92.2% more likely to drop out than students whose parents have obtained at least a bachelor's degree. And according to the Education Data Initiative, American Indian/Alaska Native students have a 45.1% dropout rate and Black students are 33.8% more likely to leave a degree program than the average college student.

Financial support can make a meaningful difference in the educational paths and lives of prospective and current nurses of color, and such efforts are gaining traction, McCamey says.

"Since the racial reckoning in the US has highlighted the deficit of diversity in healthcare, there has been an inflow of donations and organizations providing scholarship opportunities" for students and nurses of color, she says.

Ethnic Minority Groups Lead the Way

Nursing associations can be an excellent source of monetary aid for tuition, books, or other education-related costs, along with living expenses, says McCamey, who notes that DNPs of Color plans to sponsor five scholarships for professional development fees in the upcoming fiscal year.

"A lot of ethnic minority nursing associations offer substantial scholarships, so I always tell people to start there," she says.

Ethnic minority nursing associations include:

  • Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association

  • National Alaska Native American Indian Nurses Association

  • National American Arab Nurses Association

  • National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN)

  • National Black Nurses Association (NBNA)

  • National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations

  • Philippine Nurses Association of America

In 2022 alone, NBNA awarded more than $230,000 in scholarships and grants to its members, and NAHN awarded nearly $100,000.

"Since its inception, NAHN has been committed to increasing the diversity of the nursing workforce; and providing scholarships to students is one of the ways we fulfill our mission," says NAHN President Adrianna Nava, PhD, MSN, RN.

Dr Adrianna Nava

Recipients ranged from entry-level nursing students to those pursuing doctoral degrees, she says. "Monetary support allows students to continue their academic goals," she notes. It permits them to focus on coursework and not worry about balancing school and employment, she adds.  

Companies such as Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and CVS have also established partnerships with various nursing organizations to enhance workforce diversity and minimize financial barriers. In 2021, J&J entered into a 3-year scholarship commitment with the NBNA. The duo recently developed the Nurses Recharge Fund, which provides nurses $2500 for groceries, childcare, utilities, and cleaning services. 

In addition, J&J's collaboration with the Foundation of the National Student Nurses' Association awarded over $500,000 to members this year, including scholarships to 67 Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) students.

Racial and ethnic minority psychiatric nurses pursuing an advanced degree pathway, such as a PhD, DNP, and BS-to-PhD, may consider applying for the Minority Fellowship Program. Created by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the American Nurses Association (ANA), the program provides tuition and dissertation assistance and stipends for living expenses.

As part of their Coronavirus Response Fund, ANA's philanthropic arm, the American Nurses Foundation (ANF), partners with the nurse-managed, nonprofit Nurses House to award short-term grants to nurses in need. Of the ANF's most recent monetary contribution, 40% ($100,000) was explicitly earmarked for nurses of color, with no constraints on spending, ANA reported. Some nurses have even used the funds for medical and housing expenses. 

The Rise of Holistic College Admissions

Dr Vernell DeWitty

Figuring out how to cover higher education costs requires students of color to navigate "a fragmented landscape" of funding options, says Vernell DeWitty, PhD, MBA, RN, director for diversity and inclusion at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Unfortunately, federal support for many direct financial assistance programs has expired, she says, though she anticipates future investments given the importance of diversifying the workforce.

Still, the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) continues to offer loan repayment and scholarship programs. Although most are not explicitly reserved for nurses of color, the programs supply nearly unmatched financial aid. In exchange for working in a medically underserved area for a specified timeframe, students can have most, if not all, tuition and school-related costs compensated, and in some cases, receive a monthly stipend.

HRSA has four loan repayment programs applicable to nursing professionals: National Health Service Corps, Nurse Corps, Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery, and Faculty Loan.

As for federal scholarships, the HRSA has one for nurse practitioners and nurse midwives as well as one for students enrolled in virtually any level of nursing education. The organization also offers scholarships for nurses and select advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with a Native Hawaiian background who are entering primary care or behavioral health disciplines.

DeWitty hopes students will look at these programs and not be intimidated by the service commitment.

"Oftentimes, these might be care settings that are not necessarily rural and remote, but sometimes in urban settings. There are lots of different settings where students would be able to fulfill the commitment," she says.

Overall, the AACN continues to be "very active in advocating and lobbying to get more money allocated from the federal budget for nursing education at all levels," says DeWitty, adding that these are efforts that will "move the needle forward" in improving educational access for marginalized groups.

Throughout the last decade, the organization has encouraged nursing schools to examine their admission review practices, which historically have placed a heavy emphasis on TEAS and GPA scores and can perpetuate systematic discrimination, and instead consider adopting holistic admission review practices that use an EAM model — one that bases admission on the student's life experiences and personality attributes along with traditional metrics.  

These holistic review policies have been successfully used in medical schools and can enhance enrollment of underrepresented groups, thereby assisting them in meeting the eligibility criteria for the breadth of scholarship, grant, and lending options and easing one barrier to higher education, DeWitty says.

At its core, financially supporting the educational pursuits of marginalized individuals has benefits beyond the monetary aid, Nava says. Organizations that are committed to such initiatives demonstrate their investment in the success and professional growth of students and nurses of color, which can help motivate them to continue the pursuit of their dreams, she adds.

Steph Weber is a Midwest-based freelance journalist specializing in healthcare and law.

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