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Thursday February 2nd

Blue Cross NC invests $1 million in NCCU's nursing program to increase diversity

<p>Students at N.C. Central University, one of UNC system's five HBCUs. Photo courtesy of Keisha Williams.&nbsp;</p>
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Students at N.C. Central University, one of UNC system's five HBCUs. Photo courtesy of Keisha Williams. 

Last month, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) announced a $50 million investment into community health initiatives, including $1 million for N.C. Central University’s nursing program, which hopes to increase diversity in the nursing field.

The increase in diversity in nursing continues to be seen both at historically black colleges and universities and traditional universities like UNC-Chapel Hill.

Wanda Lawrence, chairperson of the NCCU's Department of Nursing, said the university will use Blue Cross NC’s investment for scholarships, especially for low-income and rural area graduates.

“This is really going to help those students to be able to continue their education,” she said. “I wish there were a lot more corporations that would come forth and invest more into nursing programs, and especially in HBCUs.”

The UNC School of Nursing named Rumay Alexander as full-time director for diversity and inclusion in 2003. Alexander now serves as chief diversity officer, associate vice chancellor and professor at the university's School of Nursing. She said she continues to see an increase in diversity at the school.

“The fact that an African-American nurse holds this position for the nation’s first public university for the first time — and perhaps at any (predominantly white institution) — is historical and says a great deal about how nursing is a platform for many positions not only at the bedside but in boardrooms and organizational leadership,” she said. “The number of male nurses is also increasing and worth noting.”

Lawrence said increased diversity is welcomed from any source, but HBCUs will play a major role in improving diversity for the future.

“NCCU is going to reach students that UNC will not reach, and so I believe that a lot of the diversity in the workforce — diversity in nursing — is going to come from NCCU because of the population and demographics here,” she said.

When Alexander was hired, the School of Nursing was the only unit on campus with a director devoted to diversity and inclusion. She said she has seen improvements over time, but there is still more room for diversity.

“Nursing as a profession continues to be predominantly white females, so yes there is a need for more diversity,” she said. “However, let me remind you that dimensions of diversity are much broader than just race, ethnicity or gender. Definitions of diversity very much need to be expanded to include physical ability, age, religion, veteran status, sexuality, generational differences and socio-economic status, just to name a few.”

According to Blue Cross NC, $40 million of the investment was generated by the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The initiative aims to improve four areas: the state’s coverage of the opioid epidemic, early childhood development, social determinants of health and primary care.

In its announcement, Blue Cross NC referenced North Carolina’s shortage of nurses. Alexander said she sees the shortage as a threat to the state’s overall health.

“When there is a short supply of nurses, the nation and the state are in danger,” she said. “Making sure there is a diverse and well-educated pipeline of nurses is vital and support from Blue Cross is a timely, strategic and futuristic move.”


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