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Connecting with Communities to Inspire the Next Generation of Nurses

For many underrepresented students, nursing pipeline programs don’t start early enough or reach them at all. Meet the nurse who is working to change that, as a nonprofit founder raising awareness of nursing as a vital career choice and developing experiential education and long-term mentors for underrepresented students in Houston’s middle and high schools.
Nursing News & ProgramsNurses Leading Innovation

Connecting with Communities to Inspire the Next Generation of Nurses

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For many underrepresented students, nursing pipeline programs don’t start early enough or reach them at all. Meet the nurse who is working to change that, as a nonprofit founder raising awareness of nursing as a vital career choice and developing experiential education and long-term mentors for underrepresented students in Houston’s middle and high schools.
Group of CompassRN students at a patient simulation bedside
Source: CompassRN

How early can you inspire a middle or high school student to pursue a nursing career?

Today’s nursing workforce is roughly 90% female and 80% white, a stark difference from national demographics, where women represent 50% of the population, and more than two-fifths of Americans identify as people of color. Knowing that patient connections and health outcomes can improve with a nursing workforce that mirrors the communities they are caring for, the need to attract more diverse students to this profession is front and center for many organizations today. Across the country, communities and organizations are working to increase the number of nurses – especially nurses of color – through scholarships, grants, mentorship programs and more.

But often, these programs don’t start early enough, or may not be accessible at all, to support all the students who might benefit.

For many students, particularly those who would be first-generation college students, the pathway to a career in nursing is unclear, seemingly unattainable, or full of misperceptions of what nurses truly do. To build a diverse nursing workforce for the future, connecting with, educating and inspiring middle and early high school students could not be more timely.

It’s this insight that inspired nurse and community leader Renée G. Omoyeni to create CompassRN.

Bringing Nursing Field Trips and Summer Camps to Students of Color

Aimed at underserved and underrepresented middle and high school students in Houston, Texas, CompassRN’s “student to nurse” approach tackles two related issues affecting the nursing pipeline. First, the nonprofit seeks to raise awareness of the nursing profession, particularly among students who may have limited experiences with nurses, or inaccurate perceptions of nursing as a career. Second, CompassRN develops long-term mentors for students who are interested in nursing but need guidance and support to achieve their goals.

CompassRN’s no-cost programs include summer camps, field trips to nursing schools and local hospitals and health systems, and special events that provide hands-on experie09/01/2023nce with nursing and healthcare.

These in-person and virtual events connect students to real people working in nursing and healthcare, providing direct visibility into different roles, responsibilities, opportunities, and collaboration.

Outreach begins with health and wellness camps for middle school students where they learn about body systems, common diseases, especially those that particularly impact minority groups, and leading healthy lifestyles.

Once in high school, students who show interest in nursing can attend nursing summer camps and participate in year-round engagement opportunities. Before they begin their senior year, official mentorship begins and extends throughout each individual's journey, from student to nurse. Students get direct guidance and support as they prepare for their transition from high school, college, and becoming an independent graduate nurse.

image of CompassRN meeting
Source: CompassRN

Omoyeni and a team of volunteers hosted their first nurse camp in the summer of 2022, and in the program’s second year, they’ve reached more than 250 students and expanded to nine camps throughout the Houston and Dallas Fort Worth area.

Beginning to End: Mentorship Matters

“When I look back, I see myself in these students,” Omoyeni says.

Among the two key issues CompassRN seeks to improve – awareness of nursing for underrepresented students, and guidance for those who want to become nurses – Omoyeni fell in the latter camp.

“I was so set on becoming a nurse, and so motivated, but I really was not the best high school student, and I was so unprepared for that transition,” she said. “I know it would have improved my perception of what I needed to do if I had some kind of support to say, this is what you should be doing, because this is the life you can build for yourself.”

image of CompassRN founder Renée G. Omoyeni
Source: CompassRN

As a first-generation college student, many of the important conversations around grades, test scores, and scholarships didn’t happen for Omoyeni. And like her, many students have the initial spark of interest in nursing but lack the guidance and support to keep it going.

She began her pre-nursing journey at a local community college in Florida but struggled to gain acceptance to a nursing program. “It was a struggle,” she says. “I was getting denied right and left. I made it through, but it just shows how unprepared I was.”

Following a university transfer, she graduated with her BSN in 2010, and from there, she joined the U.S. Army as an RN, and went on to work in med/surg, case management and IV infusion therapy and then earned an MS in Health Education and Promotion. Omoyeni says she’s always been inspired to mentor young women, and knew she wanted to start her own organization.

“I wish I had a mentor to steer me, to ask, ‘Do you know that you need to finish high school with great grades?’ or ‘Maybe think about dual enrollment programs.’ Having these nurse mentors work with these students is so powerful,” she said. “They guide them, not just from high school to college, but all throughout college, all the way to becoming a nurse, having that same support system, beginning to end.”

Creativity and Belonging

But for other students, especially younger students, it’s all about the fun. The magic of CompassRN is in blending the best parts of nursing – the creativity, the science, and the humanity – with the sense of belonging that representation carries.

“It brings you to a time when we were this age, and you want to be creative, you want to make it fun,” she said. “And when you’re actually talking to somebody that looks like you, or that can relate to you, students just love that.”

Encouraging more boys to pursue nursing has been a successful part of the program, Omoyeni says.

“Last year, we had three male students attend our inaugural nurse camp. This year, we had 23 students, and we’re having an all-male nurse takeover in a few weeks, where five or six male nurses are going to take them into the schools and just spend time with them,” she said. “That’s representation.”

group of prospective male nursing students during CompassRN process
Source: CompassRN

CompassRN continues to grow, and Omoyeni is focused on fundraising and attracting more volunteers to extend the nonprofit program’s reach beyond Houston, and even beyond Texas, to inspire and support students across the country.

“We have these camps that are exciting, and students love them, and we've made amazing partnerships and relationships, with the schools and with the hospitals,” she says. “But my favorite part is being able to stick with those students.”

To learn more about CompassRN, click here.

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