Charles Drew University is expanding its curriculum to attract more students of color to the field of nursing. (Courtesy photo)

Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU), one of the nation’s four historically Black medical schools, and CommonSpirit Health, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems, parent company of Dignity Health California Hospital in Los Angeles, are responding to the national nursing shortage through a new partnership that will grow and diversify the nursing workforce.

“Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we predicted a nursing shortage due to the retiring nursing workforce and the care needs of our aging population,” said Kathy Sanford, D.B.A., R.N., chief nursing officer at CommonSpirit.

“Nursing schools simply don’t have the capacity to train nurses fast enough to replace those leaving the profession. As one of the nation’s largest employers of nurses, we knew we needed to be part of the solution.”

A 2021 American Association of Colleges of Nursing study found that, although interest in nursing programs is strong, 80,521 qualified applications were not accepted at schools of nursing due primarily to a shortage of clinical sites, faculty, and resource constraints. The partnership will expand access to quality education and training by adding faculty and resources that help CDU, one of the nation’s leading educators of Black and other underrepresented minority nurses, grow its enrollment.

“In addition to clinical excellence, our students are focused on social justice and health equity for underserved populations in our surrounding communities in South Los Angeles and around the world who are affected by health disparities,” said David M. Carlisle, M.D., Ph.D., president and chief executive officer at CDU.

“Expanding our program helps increase their impact and the likelihood that diverse patients have access to a provider who looks like them.”

Studies show that having access to a provider with shared lived experience helps improve trust and outcomes, yet only 22.2% of Black adults reported being of the same race as their health care provider compared to 73.8% of White adults.

“In our Southern California Division alone, we employ 10,000 nurses that care for over a million people every year,” said Julie J. Sprengel, president and CEO of CommonSpirit’s Southern California Division.

“Together with Charles R. Drew, we’re helping to remove systemic barriers and create a more diverse and dynamic workforce that reflects the communities we serve.”

In addition to expanding capacity at CDU, the partnership seeks to drive early interest in nursing careers among students from under-resourced or underrepresented groups.  CommonSpirit and CDU will establish mentorship programs for diverse high school students and build relationships with pre-college educators and guidance counselors to help ensure that students know their options and the prerequisite coursework necessary for a career in nursing.

“As one of the nation’s leading providers of Medicaid services, this partnership is an extension of CommonSpirit’s larger commitment to increasing culturally competent health care providers,” said Sprengel.

CommonSpirit is expanding access to careers in health care through its academic partnerships with Baylor College of Medicine, Creighton University, and the Morehouse School of Medicine.  Together with the Morehouse School of Medicine, CommonSpirit has launched the More in Common Alliance, a 10-year, $100 million initiative to help address the lack of representation among health care providers.

In addition to growing medical education programs, CommonSpirit has established scholarships to help remove barriers to pursuing a career in health care, including a program at Creighton University that will provide 100 full-tuition scholarships to underrepresented students of color and $3 million awarded to diverse health care professionals through the CommonSpirit Equity Impact Scholarship.