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ASPIRE Program Gives Young People a Hands-on Nursing Experience

Originally published on Cleveland Clinic's Consult QD

High school students have no end of opportunities for learning about potential career paths—from summer athletic camps to immersion programs for foreign languages and job shadowing for business jobs. But the same isn’t true for nursing.

Nearly half of the seasoned nurses in the U.S. are approaching retirement age, and younger workers haven’t been taking up the slack. There is a looming nurse shortage, but there’s no shortage of bright young students who have the potential to become excellent nurses. The problem is, young students don’t often have the opportunity to check out the nursing profession and decide whether it’s the right path for them.

That’s why the Cleveland Clinic’s Stanley Shalom Zielony Institute for Nursing Excellence, in collaboration with the Howley Family Foundation founded the ASPIRE Nurse Scholars Program. And Cleveland’s local Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) is serving as academic partner for the program.

“It’s a win-win pipeline program—through it, high school students who are interested in nursing receive training and education, and then return to the system, to complete schooling,” says Ebony Drummer, MSN, RN, Associate Dean of Nursing at Tri-C.

In July 2016, Cleveland Clinic hired Daria Sheafe, MSN, RN, to bring ASPIRE to life as its program coordinator—and in February 2017 the first cohort of students were filing into the classroom. “I hit the ground running,” laughs Sheafe, a nursing professional development specialist in the nursing institute. “I was blessed to be able to start an idea from scratch, develop the curriculum, and just get out there and market. It all came together so wonderfully.”

ASPIRE challenges the nurses of the future

The ASPIRE Nurse Scholars Program is open to high school juniors in Northeast Ohio who are considering a career in nursing. Seventy-seven juniors applied for the inaugural session, students were selected based on their GPA, a short essay, recommendations and an interview. Sheafe made sure the process wasn’t too daunting, because she didn’t want the application to be yet another barrier to underserved students who might be interested in entering the nursing profession. In the end, 25 students made the cut — a manageable number that allowed Sheafe the opportunity to interact with each student on an individual level.

ASPIRE is not a basic enrichment program: Students spend 12 Saturdays learning about relationship-based care, research- and evidence-based practice, simulation healthcare, and more. They also participate in a shadowing program, learn how to draft a resume and present themselves professionally, and interact with nursing professionals in various roles and care environments.

In one session, students were set up in the operating room, where they practiced scrubbing and dressing for surgery, from head to toe. In another, students practiced taking vital signs on lifelike mannequins that could actually sweat and show other signs of distress. “We wanted them to feel like, ‘This is real nursing. This is not high school,’” Sheafe says. “Our belief is that these students were selected from 77 talented applicants, and they are up to the challenge of having a hands-on nursing experience.”

The challenges are great, but so are the rewards. Students who complete the program receive a $500 stipend, and some participants are invited to return during their senior year as mentors to incoming students. The returning seniors then have an opportunity to earn a full scholarship at Tri-C to complete their RN degree.

ASPIRE students tap into their resilience to succeed

Racing to attend to distressed mannequins and studying high-level nursing topics weren’t the only challenges for students in the inaugural session of ASPIRE—they also had real-life issues to manage.

One student was homeless, and attended a high school across the city from where ASPIRE was held. She managed to make it to every single session. In fact, there were only three absences during the entire winter 2017 session—a testament not only to the resilience of the students, but also to the quality of the ASPIRE program.

Giving students a real-life taste of the nursing profession, challenging and engaging them, and respecting their intelligence paid off: Nineteen of the 25 students will be continuing on to become ASPIRE mentors in their senior year. In fact, the program was so well-received that the ASPIRE program manager is making minimal changes for the 2018 program.