Nursing students more diverse thanks to comprehensive efforts, including holistic admissions

01/22/18  Portland, OR

Early and on-going efforts to diversify nursing students at OHSU seem to be working.

With the 2014 initiation of “holistic” admissions and other diversity-enhancing programs, the OHSU School of Nursing has gone from 11 percent of underrepresented minorities in 2013, the baseline year, to 21 percent with the class admitted in fall 2017. In the same time period, graduate student underrepresented minorities grew from 8 to 14 percent.

Adopted by medical and dental schools about a decade ago, holistic admissions involves looking beyond traditional GPAs and application criteria by considering an applicant’s life experiences, characteristics, background and potential for contributing to the nursing school and the profession. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has endorsed holistic admissions and provided nursing schools with a toolkit for implementation.

In a recent article in the Journal of Professional Nursing entitled, “Holistic admission in undergraduate nursing: One school’s journey and lessons learned,” Peggy Wros, R.N., Ph.D., senior associate dean for student affairs and diversity, and Joanne Noone, R.N., Ph.D., associate dean, Ashland campus, reflected on the nursing school’s experience with holistic admissions.

They conclude that holistic admissions are an important component of an overall strategy to recruit, admit, retain and graduate underrepresented students. “We have a good start on holistic admissions but want to learn from early adopters about promising practices that continue to improve admission policies,” Noone said.

“We’re working really hard to increase the diversity of our student body and to better reflect the state’s population,” Wros said. For example, Oregon’s Hispanic population is about 12 percent (or closer to 20 to 25 percent if undocumented individuals are included), while the state’s Hispanic nursing workforce is about 4 percent.

With funding from the national Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), the nursing school was awarded a nursing workforce diversity grant in 2012 with goals to recruit and enroll more underrepresented students and support their success during their education. The program (HealthE STEPS or Advancing Health Equity through Student Empowerment & Professional Success) funded two pilot sites -- Ashland and Monmouth under the leadership of Wros. The grant provided scholarships, academic and social support for recipients, community outreach to educate minority students about careers in nursing, and faculty development for the advancement of a multicultural curricula.

In July 2017, the school received news of funding for a second, four-year HRSA grant to expand HealthE STEPS on all five OHSU nursing school campuses with Noone as the program director.