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A Pathway to Success

The KU School of Nursing broadens its efforts to promote nursing careers to high school students.

Pathways graphic that resembles a board game

The University of Kansas School of Nursing has been looking for more ways to help high school students — particularly those from underserved populations— become aware of career possibilities in the field of nursing and then help them excel if they do choose to study nursing. That is why the school has launched the KU Nursing Pathway program, which is designed to provide educational and career support to high school students who may not otherwise pursue a nursing career.

The KU School of Nursing has a long history of supporting K-12 partnerships and pipeline programs that help prepare students for health care careers and college. Pamela Barnes, Ph.D., MBA, associate dean for student affairs and enrollment management for the KU School of Nursing, said the Nursing Pathway is the next logical step in the school’s effort to attract a more diverse student body.

“Pipeline programs can be effective, but sometimes there is what we call a ‘leaky pipe,’” Barnes said. “Students enrolled in K-12 pipeline programs can get career-focused curriculum advice, but often when these students enter college and complete their first two years of college, immersive nursing career exploration and preparation are absent or minimal. The Nursing Pathway program seeks to fix that leaky pipe and ensure students have the best opportunity to succeed in their nursing career aspirations.”

Sally L. Maliski, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, dean of the KU School of Nursing, said the Nursing Pathway initiative is a major priority for the school.

“We are excited because we believe the program will allow us to introduce nursing to high school students in under-resourced schools who might not understand what the profession of nursing looks like today and to provide encouragement during their entire nursing education journey,” Maliski said. “Just as critically, this program will facilitate diversifying our student body and ultimately the nursing workforce.”

The Nursing Pathway program was born out of the KU School of Nursing’s faculty and staff desires to do more to contribute to health and social equity. Much of the program’s framework took shape when Barnes worked with Jerrihlyn McGee, DNP, RN, CNE, the University of Kansas Medical Center’s vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We connected through a shared mindset and through our lived experiences,” McGee said. “This initiative is important because it provides a pathway for underrepresented minority and first-generation college students to enter nursing school to promote and achieve a diverse nursing workforce.”

The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration has stated that increasing nursing workforce diversity can contribute to better health care accessibility, quality and better health equity for patients. While the KU School of Nursing’s Kansas City campus is in a diverse part of the state, its BSN program applicants don’t currently reflect the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of the surrounding community. The goal of the Nursing Pathway program is to increase the BSN’s class and graduate diversity by at least 15%.

Another component of the Nursing Pathways program is to address the shortage of health care professionals in rural areas of Kansas. Kansas is predominantly rural, with 98 of its 105 counties designated as rural. Ninety counties are designated as Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas and 97 are designated as Medically Underserved Areas.

“Registered nurses and nurse practitioners are so critical to the health and well-being of our rural populations,” Barnes said. “It’s our hope that the Salina Nursing Pathway program will help us attract and educate more nursing students from rural areas who aspire to rural nursing careers.”

There are three phases to the KU Nursing Pathway program. The first phase will be to continue to support existing K-12 partnerships and pipeline programs that prepare students for health care careers and college. The KU School of Nursing has a goal of admitting up to 30 high school students to join the Nursing Pathway (there is no cost to the program for students and there is no obligation to attend KU.)

The second phase of the program for participating students starts at the beginning of the summer after high school graduation. KU Nursing Pathway advisors meet with participants to help them prepare for admission and enrollment at an accredited post-secondary college or university of their choice.

“Every Pathway student is matched with an academic and career mentor,” Barnes said. “Throughout their freshman and sophomore college years, the students meet with their mentors and learn more about topics important for college success and a career in nursing.”

In the third phase, students who remain in the program throughout their first two years of college, attend at least 80% of Pathway-sponsored events and meet the KU School of Nursing minimum admission requirements are offered priority admission to the KU School of Nursing.

“During their junior and senior college years, we will continue to work with our Pathway students to develop learning and leadership skills and build career networks,” Barnes said. “We will also tell them more about graduate nursing education and the possibilities of pursuing academic nursing or nurse practitioner careers.”

Barnes said the goal is to retain at least 75% of the students who initially enroll in the Nursing Pathway program and graduate 100% of the students who make it to the third phase.

McGee said she has a vision for what an effective Nursing Pathway program will look like.

“Our initial success will be better access and enhanced success of underrepresented minority and first-generation college students at the KU School of Nursing,” McGee said. “That means down the road we hope to see more diversity in the nursing workforce in the counties that KU serves and achieving health equity through quality, culturally responsive care.”

The Nursing Pathway program was originally slated for roll-out in the spring of 2020, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the School of Nursing made the decision to postpone the kick-off until the spring of 2021, with most activities happening virtually. Barnes said, in the meantime, the Black Lives Matter protest movement of 2020 reinforced the school’s determination to address inequities.

“One contribution the KU School of Nursing can make is to empower and inspire more students from traditionally underserved populations through the Nursing Pathway program,” Barnes said. “Our overall goal is to instill lasting change in the lives of our pathway participants and to those they will one day lead and inspire.”

KU School of Nursing

University of Kansas Medical Center
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
Kansas City, KS 66160