A chance encounter with a professor at the University of Colorado Denver changed the trajectory of Anissa Buhring’s career, transforming her dream of teaching into a goal with a deadline.
It was a summer day in 2003 when she decided to learn more about the university’s doctoral programs, recalls Buhring, CNS, RN, a clinical education specialist at East Morgan County Hospital in Brush, Colorado. Buhring, who is Latina, had always wanted to earn her PhD and teach. “[But] those were jobs that people outside of my ethnic background held. Even though that was a dream of mine…there was nobody else like me that I came across,” she notes.
But that summer day, she briefly met Dr. Ruby Martinez and walked away inspired. “She doesn’t realize what a huge influence she had on me that day. At that moment, I realized [my goal] was possible and that there was someone else like me that had done it. She told me that I needed to do it and I could do it. She gave me her card, and I never ran into her until years later as part of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. And now she’s my mentor,” says Buhring, a 2012 recipient of the Johnson & Johnson/American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Minority Nurse Faculty Scholars program and a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado Denver.
Buhring’s memorable experience illustrates the power of diverse academic role models, which most nursing schools and programs across the country lack. According to 2011 data from AACN’s annual survey, only 11.8% of full-time nursing school faculty come from minority backgrounds, and only 5.1% are male.
“I believe that when students do not see faculty that look like them, they feel that it may be impossible to attain high-level career goals,” says Carolina G. Huerta, EdD, RN, FAAN, chair of the nursing department at the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA), where 85% of the faculty is minority. “Students who do not see faculty that look like them may not approach faculty for clarification on academic material for fear that they will not be understood. All of the literature supports the importance of role models that look like and can relate to the students culturally.”
In 1992, when Huerta became chair, she decided the program would grow its own diverse faculty to better serve the majority-Hispanic student enrollment. Today, out of 27 nursing faculty, four are non-Hispanic white; six are Asian; one is mixed Hispanic; and 17 are Hispanic. There is one male, although that may change since 20% to 25% of students in the nursing programs (BSN and MSN) are male.
Located 12 miles from the Texas-Mexico border, “our university is located in an area that is poor and medically underserved, and many do not find it a desirable place to seek employment,” says Huerta. Not many people apply for faculty positions or employment from outside the area. There are few jobs for spouses or significant others, and the proximity to the Mexican border is not a selling point.
Many of the nursing faculty were born and raised in the community or are longtime residents. Many graduated from UTPA. Seventeen of the 27 faculty employed received their MSN through UTPA or through a UTPA cooperative program. Seven faculty members have either finished or are at the dissertation phase of their PhD/DNP. “I believe that the ‘grow your own’ philosophy has been extended by my giving them the time to complete doctoral work. The program coordinators and I have done as much as possible to accommodate their work schedule so that it does not conflict with their doctoral study,” says Huerta, who is “unaware of another program like ours.”
Culturally competent mentoring, more scholarship money, and better faculty salaries will increase diversity in nursing education, says Huerta, who was named by AACN and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) as the National Advisory Committee chair for RWJF’s New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) program. The program provides scholarships to second-
career college-educated minority or disadvantaged individuals pursuing a career in nursing by enrolling in accelerated BSN and/or MSN programs.
The NCIN program has supported over 125 schools and awarded $35,170,000 in scholarships to 3,517 entry-level nursing students in the United States since it started in 2008. “I think that a program such as this that focuses specifically on preparing nursing educators could be a success,” says Huerta.
More scholarships would make a difference, especially if no major strings are attached such as having to work for X number of years in an underserved area, she says. Boosting faculty salaries would also make nursing education a more appealing career.
“We need to infuse money into campaigns that highlight minority and diverse nurses making a difference, especially in nursing education. I know that Johnson and Johnson has done this and they have been successful. We need more of this.”
One of five recipients selected for the Johnson & Johnson/AACN Minority Nurse Faculty Scholars program last year, Buhring agrees more opportunities are needed to develop a pipeline for minority educators. She pitches in as a mentor for middle and high school students as well as first-generation college students. Buhring looks forward to the impact she will have as an educator. “I want to pass that flame to others,” she says. “Whether it’s for nursing or just knowing it’s possible as a Latino to go to college.”
Robin Farmer is a freelance writer based in Virginia.
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