Over 3 million registered nurses practice in the U.S. Of those, only 7 percent are Hispanic, despite Hispanics making up 17 percent of the population.
This disparity has highlighted the need to recruit nurses of color into nursing schools. A five-year, $1.5 million National Institutes of Health grant, the Science Education Partnership Award, is making it possible to reach out through media resources to teachers and students in high school and college.
Angie Millan is a registered nurse in Los Angeles County, and serves as nursing director at Children’s Medical Services. Millan is a board member with the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, which is taking the lead in the outreach efforts.
Millan said NAHN aims to recruit and retain Hispanics in the field of nursing, however sometimes it’s the parents who she finds need convincing.
“Through the interviews that I’ve done with the youth, Hispanic youth, I’ve been finding out that many parents of Hispanic youth still don’t realize that a registered nurse is a career, a well paid career,” she said.
Millan said students aren’t often aware they can start preparing for a nursing career as early as middle or high school by taking science and math courses. Some Hispanic students also encounter obstacles because they might not be fluent in English.
“We need to prepare them better,” Millan said. “When we speak to the youth, what they’re telling us is that nobody’s guiding them. Maybe nobody in their family has attended college in the past. Maybe they’re the first ones going to college. They feel lost.”
And that lost feeling often follows them to nursing school. “They say everybody around them gets it. It’s almost like they feel like maybe they miss something. Maybe the other students — the white students, the Asian students — somehow they got the information that they never received, so they feel like they’re trying to catch up.”
Millan said the grant allows NAHN members to interview Hispanics already in nursing school to ask them what obstacles they face, and how they solve them. Millan says those nursing students will eventually become mentors.
“Once we get these youth interested, we’re pairing them up with a NAHN member who is already a registered nurse,” she said. “Or it could be somebody who recently graduated because they can help this youth and guide them. We have our mentors ready to go.”
Millan said in some Hispanic communities, a career in nursing is looked down upon.
“When you’re a nurse in Mexico, it’s not a well-paid profession. It’s seen as somebody who’s picking up bedpans and maybe giving bed baths. Here (in the U.S.), that’s not what a registered nurse is,” she said. “A registered nurse is someone who actually does head-to-toe assessments, they’re the ones that give (patients) medication, take the orders from the doctors, and they’re at the bedside 24-7. They know about the patients, they know when something’s going right, when it’s going wrong.
“... A registered nurse is a career. As a registered nurse, you can support yourself. You could afford to buy a house; you could afford to buy a car. It’s that well paid, especially if they continue their education nonstop.”
Millan experienced a sense of isolation when she was studying nursing in Los Angeles in the mid 1980s. She said it took three years, while working nights and taking courses at a community college.
Millan stuck with it and eventually earned her bachelors and masters degrees.
“I feel I have been very lucky to have good teachers (who) cared about me, (who) took their time, and we kind of stuck together,” she said.
In 2015, she received her doctorate in nursing practice.
Millan, a 20-plus year nursing veteran, said the future of her industry is in the hands of the up-and-coming young Hispanic population.
“Hispanics are very young. The average is about 26, so I’m always telling everybody, ‘reach out to those youth,’ especially if they’re out there maybe practicing as a certified nursing attendant which pays $8 to $10,” she said. “No. Come back to school. If that’s the kind of work you want to do, become a registered nurse. Don’t settle for $8 to $10 an hour. Especially if you love what you’re doing.”