ORLANDO, Fla. – The Florida Hospital Association projects a shortage of 37,400 registered nurses by 2035 and it estimates an additional 2,300 RNs are needed to enter the workforce each year. With a generous donation of $10 million from Doctor Phillips Charities, and an initiative called Progresando that supports Hispanic and LatinX students pursuing a career in medical fields, the University of Central Florida is trying to bridge the gap.
“It was pretty amazing, it was very rewarding to be able to go into a room and speak to someone in their native tongue,” said Elizabeth Yousef, an acute care nurse practitioner.
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Yousef remembered the first time in 2003 when she helped a patient who didn’t speak English — she recalled she was one of the few nurses who spoke the language in Daytona Beach at the time.
“Right after school I went straight into ICU and did that for many, many years... you know, there is something to be said about, to be able to care for someone’s loved one when you’re not able to be there at the bedside,” she said.
Today, Yousef works in Orlando, where she sees firsthand the growth of the Hispanic community and the need for more bilingual nurses.
“I get pulled all the time, asked to translate. They will ask me, you know, ‘Do you speak Spanish?’ And the relief that they feel in that moment is just very gratifying. It really is,” Yousef, who is daughter to Ecuadorian immigrants, said.
Through the Progresando initiative and with a $250,000 grant, UCF hopes more bilingual registered nurses will continue their higher education studies. According to the university, less than 6% of nurses are Hispanic nationwide.
“The need for entry-level RNs is huge,” said Jessica Simmons, assistant dean of the college of nursing for UCF. “Our graduate population is only about 15% Hispanic right now, so we are trying to increase the diversity in our graduate programs. We are focusing on our graduate nursing population, particularly our online students.”
Simmons said the grant, which is provided by a banking institution and a technology company, will help recruit current Hispanic registered nurses, faculty and undergraduate nursing students.
“We’re focusing on the nurse educator and the Ph.D. programs to help with the faculty pipeline but overall the college of nursing is trying to increase our nursing population as well at the BSN level,” Simmons said. “Surveys and statistics show that people who speak in their native language to a healthcare provider are much more — they feel much more comfortable, they have their needs met more efficiently and effectively.”
Progresando is part of Bank of America’s efforts to create opportunities for people and communities of color. The latest U.S. Census Bureau data indicates 18.5% of U.S. population is Hispanic. However, representation of Hispanic/Latina/o/x people in health care is much smaller.
“It’s amazing. It (the initiative) provides the opportunity and knowing that there’s a place where you can go that is culturally sensitive to you,” Yousef said.
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