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Local programs aim to diversify caregiver workforce in Northeast Ohio

Cleveland is a diverse city, but our health care workers don't necessarily reflect that.

CLEVELAND — When you think of the Cleveland Clinic, you may think of world class health care. What you may not think of, however, is the effort to increase diversity among its nurses.

Three years ago, the ASPIRE program was started with Ursuline College to provide a pipeline of qualified, trained, diverse nurses.

"We actually provide the supportive pathway for these students to have a great education and rewarding nursing career and come back to us at the Cleveland Clinic to help diversify our caregiver workforce," Lisa Baszynski, Clinic Senior Nursing Education Director, said.

Nearly two dozen high school students a year are provided with mentors, and learning opportunities inside the Cleveland Clinic. Many continue their education at Ursuline majoring in Nursing.

"I have a lot of nursing students in my dorm and they always get excited going to clinicals on Friday," Ranique Rhoden, an ASPIRE student and freshman at the college, said.

The Ursuline/Cleveland Clinic partnership hopes to build a sustainable pipeline to increase diversity among nurses and positively impact health outcomes.

"Patients can identify with people who look like them or come from," Baszynski said. "It's been shown they have better outcomes, so we’re looking at how are we helping the wellbeing of the community."

Bethany Studenic is co-founder of a diversity research firm called Enlightened Solutions. She says rethinking the approach to medicine is key to improving health disparities in Black and brown communities.

"We’re really thinking about our professions from a very white perspective, a very male perspective, a very heteronormative perspective, a very neurotypical perspective," she explained. "What we’ve seen is that the systems that we’ve built and the doctors who are currently practicing are not adequately equipped to be treating diverse people."

That’s why the Northeast Ohio Medical University, or NEOMED, is implementing several initiatives, including scholarships, a new pathway to medical school, more cultural competency training for all students, and more. Dr. John Langell, President of NEOMED, says there is still work to be done.

"We need to be better about training the population we have, not just to make them diverse and reflective of the community, but to give them the tools they need to be better at taking care of the community," he told 3News.

ChiChi Nkemere, the other co-founder with the diversity research firm Enlightened Solutions, says that approach will have a ripple effect on future generations of physicians.

"It's future thinking," she said. "It's preventative care. It’s not just now that there is a problem we get to treat it. It’s now that we have individuals here who are healthy, happy, and thriving, our region will absolutely flourish."

While Ursuline and NEOMED want to produce excellent nurses and doctors, in this time of social awakening, they’re also leading the way forward with inclusive learning strategies and focused programs to produce the next generation of culturally competent medical personnel.

"As we create the future workforce to help solve these problems and to help deliver healthcare we improve the world," Langell said.

*High school junior students interested in pursuing a career in nursing and healthcare can apply to the ASPIRE program here.