We All Had to Start Somewhere

We All Had to Start Somewhere

Did you ever look back upon your career and reflect on those humble beginnings? As educators, we sometimes forget that it was not easy to aspire to the higher academic goals we have been so fortunate to have attained. When we counsel our students, we must not disregard that they too have many barriers to overcome in their journey to be successful. In retrospect, we can embrace the challenges we must face in the effort to ensure our students’ academic success.

One morning during break, I overheard one of my student’s discussion with her colleague regarding how lucky she was that her children would be cared for over the weekend. This would allow her time needed to study for the final exam. Knowing this student, I was aware that she was a single parent and working mom, and more importantly, my student was pursuing a future career in nursing no less. It was a revelation that this fortunate incident for her was not expected, but was a gift. I began to ponder how this student would have prepared for the final if the childcare issues had not been resolved. Upon review, I realized that this student’s grades were not always consistent. During counsel, her excuses for poor grades or incomplete homework assignments were due to illness (whether be it her own or one of her children’s) or because of a busy work schedule, which entailed all shifts conceivable. So, when did she have time to study?

Lack of study time was also noticeable in the part-time evening students. I ­recall the blank stares on their faces during a Q&A session in preparation for the day’s lesson. Upon inquiry, the group confessed that

they had not prepared for the evening’s lecture in their attempt to balance work, family, homework, and study hours. The weekends had been relegated to study time in preparation for the upcoming week’s assignments, albeit incomplete. Add this to childcare, spousal duties, and familial responsibilities and you have one overworked, fatigued, and ill-prepared ­nursing ­student.

Many times, as educators we focus on the negative aspects of our students: the fatigue, lack of engagement during lecture or clinical, and the behavioral issues (tardiness, ­absenteeism, and disputes with colleagues). This can hinder our ability to focus on putting interventions into place to enhance our students’ learning abilities. We might complain about time consumed due to providing an inordinate amount of time with a student that was not responding to intense tutelage. Perhaps we should invest in discussions about the ever-changing policies affecting our curriculum or work hours. Somehow, the drudgery of this negative outlook overshadows a focus on the academic pursuits of those ­struggling to attain a portion of our accomplishments. We must be sensitive to the vulnerability of this population during their journey. Whether it be in the case of the traditional, the returning, or the recycled adult learner, financial constraints are taxing. Adhering to professional and attendance policies takes effort. Striving to maintain a precarious balancing act to function commendably in multiple roles are all central themes of the adult learner. In acknowledging this, it is incumbent upon us to assist our students in getting past these barriers.

I have contemplated methods to assist nursing students, which have resulted in ­better outcomes. Some interventions I have put into place have made the difference in my students’ success as evidenced in their test scores. The following interventions are worth noting:

  • Games: the Millennials love them. Who said learning should be boring? The younger generation thrives off the technological ­support, which ­surreptitiously enhances learning. The games can be competitive, informal, and applied individually or after breaking the class into groups. Games are used best when they can be accessed as a resource after classroom sessions as a study tool before testing.
  • Provide a quick recap at the end of class. Some students may be so attentive during lecture that they do not take notes that were imperative to have as a review for the next test. This is easy to rectify by providing a short review of pertinent facts at the end of the day, paying special attention to the material that will be included on the test. This quick review gives the learner another chance to process and make note of what the instructor was attempting to stress in the previous lecture(s). This may seem redundant, but we cannot forget that this is all new information for the learner.
  • Remind the student of your availability. I state my office hours on a weekly basis most emphatically after testing. This publicly reinforces my commitment to their learning needs and hopefully abates their reluctance to seek my instruction.
  • Review one-on-one over the previous tests taken with students who have scored poorly. Allow the student to reflect, write, and question the material covered in the test(s). Educators have gained insight about their students during these sessions (e.g., what type of learner they are, if there are linguistic barriers, and/or if there is a lack of effective study habits). This session also establishes a rapport between you and the learner, which can be motivational.
  • Allocate extra time to be available for hours before testing. You would be surprised to see how many students will attend for review after a long, clinical day in anticipation of a test pending the next day. Is it more time consuming? Not nearly as much as counseling them one-on-one would be.

These are a few tips I have used to incorporate in teaching my students before I notice a decline in test scores. As I look back on my humble beginnings, I realize that the barriers I encountered are not so different. I am fortunate enough to have had support and encouragement throughout my career as a student and as a practitioner. It is as challenging for both the educator and the learner; diligence is required from all parties. But we are in the trenches together. We all had to start somewhere.

Racial Disparities of Nursing Educators and Students

Racial Disparities of Nursing Educators and Students

Due to the shortage of nurses in the workforce, many nursing schools are making an effort to increase their enrollment of students. Although there is an effort to increase the enrollment of nursing students, there are still racial disparities within the nursing student population—and this disparity correlates to the racial disparity of nursing educators.1 Without a diverse population of nursing educators, minority students are often made to feel invalidated in various situations, particularly in relating to professors culturally and receiving appropriate advice on cultural and ethnic relations in the workforce. 

Ethnic Hands

According to the National League for Nursing’s Annual Survey of Schools of Nursing, only 12% of the nursing student population in a baccalaureate program in 2012 was African American. That number dwindles for other minority groups: 8% were Asian or Pacific Islander; 1% were American Indian or Alaskan Native; 6% were Hispanic; and 6% were “other.” When you compare that to the fact that only 12.6% of nursing educators are minorities and only 6.2% are male, then you realize there is a dire need for diversity within nursing school institutions to correlate with the student population.2

In addition to the academic stressors that all nursing students have to face, minority nursing students have other challenges. Those challenges include having limited access to moral and emotional support, inadequate academic advising, low professional socialization, and little to no mentoring. Due to these factors, minority students have to overcome additional barriers that may impede on their academic success. Minority students also often feel the encumbering emotions that are attributed to isolation and discrimination. Isolation is often felt by minorities in professional settings, and it is heightened in various professional schools.3 As a result of limited minority nursing peers and nursing educators, minority nursing students often feel as though they’re not supported. Veronica, an African American woman who recently matriculated from a nursing school in the southeastern part of the United States, noted experiencing the disheartening emotion of racism when she was told by a nursing school admission counselor, “They don’t want your kind.” Discrimination of a minority nursing student is often felt in the classroom as well as in the clinical setting. Minority students feel the burden of being discriminated against by patients who don’t wish to work with the student due to the color of the student’s skin. Additionally, too often minority students feel as though they’re going through a hazing process in school in order to be placed on the same level as their white peers.3 

Men continue to be highly underrepresented in the field of nursing, and their presence is even smaller in the classroom. Being a double minority comes with added hardships at times, and it may explain why many minority males do not choose to go into the field of nursing. 

Manuel Romo is a third-semester nursing student at Northern Arizona University’s Tucson campus. He is the president of the Student Nursing Association and one of the few Hispanic male students. When asked about his perception of his role as a double minority in the nursing program, he verbalized, “As I have seen, nursing is predominately white females, which in turn is probably a reason why there are mostly Anglo female instructors. I believe that more needs to be done to attract instructors from various diverse backgrounds in order to attract more minority groups to enter the nursing field.” 

The US Census Bureau predicts that minority ethnic groups will be the majority by the year 2043. With the change in our society will also come a change in the patient populations; they, too, will be predominately minority ethnic groups. The nursing profession will need to be able to be culturally sensitive and diverse in order to provide adequate clinical care. The fundamental change of the nursing profession starts at the level of the nursing students, and it’s imperative that nursing schools acknowledge this and begin to welcome an environment that represents diversity in its faculty. Currently, the National Sample Survey’s data notes that minority RNs are more likely than white RNs to obtain baccalaureate degrees and other terminal degrees in nursing.2 The reasoning for this isn’t fully understood beyond the recognition of knowing an advanced terminal degree brings about more career opportunities and the opportunity to have leadership and education roles—roles that seem to be absent in nursing institutions. 

The methods for recruiting and retaining minority nurse educators aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Every school is different and unique in its own way, but the methods can’t wait too long. It’s about time that nursing institutions implement a reliable and realistic plan to promote diversity within their faculty and within their students. As nurses, we’re committed to being lifelong learners for the advancement of our patients and ourselves. Cultural competence is a key factor in relating to one another, and if it’s not cultivated in the classroom, then we as nurses are bound to face problems beyond. 

Eliss Cucchiara is a second degree nursing student at Northern Arizona University. She will obtain her bachelor’s of science degree in nursing in the fall of 2014.


1. National League for Nursing. 2010 NLN Nurse Educator Shortage Fact Sheet. February 2010. www.nln.org/governmentaffairs/pdf/nursefacultyshortage.pdf

2. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Enhancing Diversity in the Workforce. Fact Sheet. Last updated April 17, 2013. www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/enhancing-diversity

3. Loftin C, Newman SD, Dumas BP, Gilden G, Bond ML. Perceived Barriers to Success for Minority Nursing Students: An Integrative Review. ISRN Nurs. 2012;806543.