Pre-nursing student Eareaina Smith (center) chats with fellow students Aries Davis (left) and Nichole Selders before a Future Nurse Professionals seminar in March 2004. (Photo by Mary Jane Murawka)

“It’s a good support system,” beams Eareaina Smith, a pre-nursing student at Wayne State University (WSU) in Detroit. “It’s good to have someone asking whether or not I’m studying for class or concerned about my grades. If I had had a mentor when I first started college, I wouldn’t have left.”

The support system Smith is talking about is the Future Nurse Professionals (FNP) program, an initiative established five years ago by WSU’s College of Nursing to help academically and economically disadvantaged nursing and pre-nursing students overcome the obstacles that have traditionally prevented them from enrolling in nursing school and successfully completing BSN degrees. Some of these obstacles include financial need, childcare issues, time management issues, not knowing how to use university resources to their fullest capabilities, difficulties with student/instructor relationships and inefficient studying practices.

Eareaina Smith enrolled in WSU in 1996, but due to financial difficulty left college a year later. Today she is re-enrolled and has been active in the FNP program for the past two years. Like Smith, many of today’s college students have outside responsibilities, such as work and family. Future Nurse Professionals is designed to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds excel in nursing school while handling their other responsibilities.

The FNP program is a King-Chavez-Parks Select Student Support Services Initiative funded through the state of Michigan’s Work Force Development Program. It is open to pre-nursing and first-year nursing students at WSU who are receiving Federal Pell Grants and Federal Direct Student Loan Awards or who are academically underprepared based on low SAT or ACT scores. Ninety percent of the students participating in FNP are students of color.

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WSU and College of Nursing enrollment data show that academically and economically disadvantaged students constitute roughly 45% of freshmen admitted to the pre-nursing curriculum. Twenty-five percent of those students are eligible to enter the BSN degree program, yet less than 15% of them successfully enroll. These disadvantaged students are also at an increased risk for retention during their first year of nursing school; only half are eligible to advance to the next phase of the nursing program.

Future Nurse Professionals is designed to change that. The program connects students with academic, financial and personal support to increase the number of disadvantaged students who successfully matriculate into the College of Nursing and go on to graduate with BSN degrees.

In addition to the state-funded program, a recently awarded $284,460 federal grant has allowed the College of Nursing to provide a comprehensive support system for nursing students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Together the two programs offer a bridge for students progressing through baccalaureate studies. Through FNP, pre-nursing students receive such resources as academic advising, tutoring and study support groups, educational workshops and seminars, and mentoring by professional nurses. Additional support, including financial aid, is then available to students entering the nursing curriculum as sophomores and juniors.


“Wayne State University is recognized as one of the nation’s top nursing schools for its thorough preparation of nurses. Twenty-three percent of the practicing nurses in Metro Detroit are Wayne State graduates,” boasts College of Nursing Dean Barbara K. Redman. “Our academic support services have greatly contributed to the success of our students. We established the FNP program to extend support to pre-nursing and first-year nursing students who need more academic assistance.” FNP graduated its first group of students in May 2004.

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Surviving the First Year

Lisa Fuller, WSU College of Nursing academic advisor and FNP program coordinator, stresses the importance of addressing students’ academic and personal development early. “If students can make it through the first year, they’ll make it through to graduation,” she maintains. Unlike other college curricula, nursing courses are taken in groupings, so that if a student fails one class, an entire semester of classes may need to be repeated.

Nutrena Tate, a doctoral student at WSU’s College of Nursing and a pediatric nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospital, agrees that the first year of nursing school is crucial. “It’s critical because there are so many things that turn students away,” she says. “This is the weed-out time because they are taking the hard classes like chemistry and biology.” Tate currently mentors two FNP pre-nursing students and one first-year nursing student.

In addition to academic support, FNP hosts seminars to help students cope with everyday life issues, such as stress management, money management and diversity issues.

Having had to leave college once because of financial difficulties has made Eareaina Smith determined to graduate. She took her problem to Lisa Fuller. “I talked to her and the next seminar she arranged was on budgeting,” Smith recalls. “FNP had that seminar because I was having financial problems. The FNP staff is great. They really care about you. The ultimate goal is to be a well-rounded student. The FNP seminars teach you life skills that will help after graduation.”

The Future Nurse Professionals program has also partnered with the Detroit chapter of the National Black Nurses Association to increase students’ exposure to the nursing field.  Representatives from the association regularly give presentations to FNP students on issues in nursing and health care.

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Nutrena Tate would like to see other schools of nursing adopt a similar approach to helping disadvantaged students succeed academically and beyond the classroom. “The FNP program is essential for the recruitment and retention of minority nurses,” Tate argues. “Other institutions need this incorporated into their curriculum for students to succeed. As a mentor,” she adds, “I can let [these students] know that I’ve been in their shoes and have overcome [the same obstacles].”
To learn more about the Future Nurse Professionals program, contact Wayne State University College of Nursing’s Office of Student Affairs at (313) 577-4082 or email [email protected].

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