Volunteer nurse mentors have joined UMSON’s collaborative effort to support P-TECH students navigating their nursing career path from high school to community college and beyond.
More than two years ago, UMSON began a collaboration with Dunbar High School in West Baltimore and Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) to introduce the first nursing pathway to P-TECH students in Maryland. P-TECH, or Pathways in Technology Early College High School, is a national program that allows students to earn a high school diploma and an associate degree at a local community college and gain relevant work experience in a STEM profession.
To assist Dunbar P-TECH students in accelerating their journey toward a nursing career, they begin taking classes at BCCC the summer after their freshman year of high school, and in six years or fewer, they graduate with a high school diploma and a no-cost, two-year associate degree in nursing from BCCC. UMSON’s role in the program includes pairing students, once they enter BCCC, with nurse mentors who help guide them through community college, answer questions, help them manage the rigors of nursing coursework, and acclimate to the profession. The School’s efforts are supported by a Nurse Support Program II grant funded through the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission and administered by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
“The P-TECH nursing pathway is an extremely rigorous program,” says Nina Trocky, DNP, RN, NE-BC, CNE, associate professor, who is the primary investigator on UMSON’s P-TECH grant. “Students must balance completing both high school courses as well as college courses. Our nurse mentors have had similar challenges and can relate to the P-TECH nursing students, encouraging them to remain motivated in their dream of becoming a nurse.”
As the first of the P-TECH Nursing Pathway students have enrolled at BCCC this fall — during a particularly challenging time to be a student and, perhaps even more complex, a health professions student — a team of mentors has stood ready to assist and support.
“I didn’t have a mentor in high school or college,” says P-TECH mentor Shaneisha McMillan, BSN, RN, CCRN, nurse clinician II at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. “I think that mentors have an important role, allowing the younger generation to see someone that has been in their place to provide them with guidance. It is beneficial for me to help someone that looks like me.”
Mentors, who participate exclusively as volunteers and must undergo a background check and attend trainings, are partnered one on one with P-TECH nursing students to provide encouragement, emotional support, and meaningful feedback, with the ultimate goal of encouraging students to progress beyond an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree program. Through a Dual-Admission Partnership between UMSON and BCCC, P-TECH students can begin taking classes toward their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree while still enrolled at BCCC, again providing them an opportunity to accelerate their education and enter the nursing workforce as soon as possible.
“Learning that young students would obtain both their high school diploma and their associate degree in four to six years could set them up for tremendous professional and financial success,” says Allison Hamilton, BSN, RN, nurse clinician II, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, another P-TECH mentor. “I couldn’t think of a better way to support a student to reach their potential. Most importantly, several mentors helped me get to where I am today, so it only seemed sensible to support another student’s future.”
Recognizing the rigor of nursing education, Hamilton says, her motivation is to motivate others to stick with it. “Since nursing school is not the easiest course, it is important for the nursing student to hear about the profession while working toward their career,” she says. “I share my personal experience to help them bridge core concepts to practical nursing situations. Plus, nursing is so rewarding, and I enjoy sharing that perspective in the hope those little gems will help them stay motivated.”
The mentors connect with the students via text message, email, and regular Zoom sessions. Topics range from classwork and study habits to emotional health and ethics, and discussions are guided by the student. “I start off each conversation asking how she is doing in general,” McMillan says, referencing her mentee. “We then move on to what she specifically needs help with. I encourage my mentee to identify her problem areas and develop solutions.”
Mentorship isn’t solely for professional nurses; UMSON invites BSN and Clinical Nurse Leader master’s-level entry-into-nursing students to participate, too. Kendra Bower, a second-semester UMSON BSN student, has answered the call and is serving as a “mentor in training.”
“I am very passionate about nursing and was interested in sharing that passion with others and supporting them through their journey of becoming nurses,” Bower says. “After taking college courses in my high school career, I know how difficult it can be to adjust, especially when those classes are nursing.” Bower’s perspectives on the ways she can be of service are driven by empathy and understanding. “While I am still in school, I have learned many skills along the way,” she says. “We focus a lot on time management, as my mentee was balancing work and school, which was very difficult for her.”
And the benefits of mentoring are bidirectional. “It is a positive leadership experience and can allow you to grow personally and professionally,” McMillan says about the act of mentoring. “There are many things a mentor can learn about him or herself while lending a helping hand to someone else. A mentor can help instill and bring about positive qualities in students.”
“Working with these students and seeing them progress throughout their education is extremely rewarding,” Bower says. “I am beyond excited to continue working with this group of students and new ones in the future.”
As additional P-TECH students are anticipated to enroll at BCCC in fall 2021, the UMSON P-TECH team is always seeking more mentors. Learn more at www.nursing.umaryland.edu/ptech or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(l to r: Bower, Hamilton, McMillan)