New Akron Children's program pays tuition, guarantees nursing jobs for underrepresented students

Akron Children's Hospital has launched a new program to pay for students to receive associate's degrees in nursing and eliminate barriers they may face in school, such as transportation and child care. [Daniel M. Ernst]
Akron Children's Hospital has launched a new program to pay for students to receive associate's degrees in nursing and eliminate barriers they may face in school, such as transportation and child care. [Daniel M. Ernst]
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Ideastream Public Media’s health team is connecting the dots to uncover solutions to the complex issue of health inequities.

Akron Children’s Hospital has launched a new program that will pay underrepresented students to receive associate’s degrees in nursing and guarantee them a position at the hospital upon graduating.

The goals of the program are two-fold, said vice president of diversity, inclusion and talent management Janae Bragg: recruit more workers from diverse backgrounds and combat the shortage of health care employees.

“We would like to continue to diversify - what does it look like to be a nurse? What does it look like to be a nurse ... for Akron Children’s Hospital that is reflective of the communities we serve?” Bragg said.

The associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) program aims to eliminate barriers that keep students from underrepresented backgrounds from pursuing a traditional 4-year nursing degree program, Bragg said.

In addition to covering 100 percent of school expenses, like tuition and books, the hospital will also pay for services like transportation, child care and Internet access, she said.

Hospital officials looked at surveys conducted by community organizations in Akron, as well as feedback from Akron Children’s employees, about the challenges students from marginalized communities may face while navigating college and job searching, she said.

“Instead of just saying – ‘here are barriers and here’s what we’re hearing,’ how about we actually become part of the solution and say, ‘how can we help with some of those,’" Bragg said.

They heard examples like students not being able to go to class because they could not find child care, or did not have the proper equipment, Bragg said.

“Someone says, ‘If I only had a laptop. A lot of my classes are online, but I don’t have a laptop at home,’” she said. “So, what are those things that we’re hearing, and we say – that’s a barrier, let’s remove that barrier and get you back in school.”

The ADN program will also provide students with mentorship and job shadowing opportunities, she added. Upon graduating, students will be placed in a position at the organization and be committed there for three years, she said.

“We’ve been talking about nursing shortages for some time in health care, and the only way that you can overcome some of those are by building workforce development programs to grow,” Bragg said. “This program was intended to help that way.”

Participants will also be encouraged to eventually complete their bachelor’s degree or additional training to continue to advance within the organization, she added.

“We focus on careers that are careers that someone can start immediately after graduation, but these are careers that are truly meant to launch individuals into additional fields within nursing,” Bragg said.

Akron Children’s has partnered with Stark State College as the chosen school for students to complete their two-year degree, although officials are willing to look into other colleges’ programs if the student desires, she added.

There are 15 spots available for the program in 2022, starting in the summer or fall, Bragg said. Students are advised to apply in March to be considered for the summer session, she said.

The new ADN program is part of the hospital’s Career Launch initiative which assists students with tuition and other services to advance in schooling and careers. It’s funded in part by donor and foundational support to Akron Children’s Hospital, Bragg said.

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