Colleges commit to expanding, diversifying pipeline of health care professionals

Looking to address the shortage of frontline health care workers, U.S. colleges and universities are expanding the pipeline of future nurses and pharmacists, providing the support they need to graduate, and preparing them for the workforce.

Nursing schools are working to reduce barriers to quality medical education for students from underserved communities to bolster the ranks of nurses and support vulnerable communities, Diverse Issues in Higher Education reports. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Employment Projections 2021-2031 for Registered Nurses projects that there will be about 203,200 openings for new registered nurses (RN) each year through 2031—and too few candidates to fill those spots amid employee burnout, an aging workforce, and a lack of training, says U.S. News and World Report.

Related: New efforts to diversify medical school classes >

To educate future nurses to support public health needs, minority-serving institutions such as Claflin University, a historically Black institution in South Carolina, and Dominican University, a private Catholic, Hispanic-Serving Institution near Chicago, are providing psychosocial support to currently enrolled students and investing in outreach programs to high school students.

“There are structural, social, and systemic determinants that are barriers to more diversity in the nursing workforce,” says Dr. Shannon B. Smith, associate professor and chair of Claflin University’s Department of Nursing, in the Diverse Issues in Higher Education article. “Those barriers lead to a lack of access to quality education for our minority students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Ohio State University’s College of Nursing has also established both the Summer Institute for Future Nurses, a free program for high school students from across the country, and a doctoral program in nursing education to reach, engage, and graduate more nursing faculty, particularly individuals from underrepresented populations.

Several colleges are working to grow and diversify the pharmacist workforce, as well. As the health professionals most accessible to the general public, pharmacists not only process prescriptions but also provide direct patient care, according to an article about pharmaceutical healthcare efforts in Diverse Issues in Higher Education. However, community pharmacies and large drugstore chains such as CVS Health and Walgreens are struggling to fill positions, according to Forbes.

To strengthen and create a more representative pharmacist workforce, the McKesson Foundation, a corporate foundation dedicated to advancing health care outcomes for all, awarded $4.1 million in November 2022 to pharmacy programs at Hampton University, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and University of New Mexico. The Foundation has also partnered with pharmacy schools to introduce high school and college students to pharmaceutical careers, increase retention, and leverage pharmacists’ extensive training to serve vulnerable and rural populations.

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