Feature Story

Advocating For Diversity in Nursing, Baxter-Supported Schweitzer Fellow Inspires First Generation Nursing Students to Pursue Higher Education

Evelyn Gomez and student in Chicago

As a Chicago-area Schweitzer Fellow, Evelyn created the Leadership, Education and Development program (LEAD) to both increase diversity in the nursing profession and support first generation high school graduates with their transition to college.

In order to provide the best possible care for patients, it’s vital to maintain a nursing workforce that reflects the diversity of society. Evelyn Gomez, a nursing student at Rush University in Chicago, is passionate about ensuring that every student, no matter their background or ethnicity, is given an equal chance to pursue a career in nursing and help improve patient care in their communities. Through the Chicago-area Schweitzer Fellowship, supported in part by Baxter and the Baxter International Foundation, Evelyn was able to directly transform her goal into reality by initiating an after-school mentoring and health education program for 25 high school students at the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy (IHSCA).

As part of efforts to increase access to care for the community’s medically vulnerable, the Schweitzer Fellowship program assists graduate students in health-related professions to design and implement innovative service projects targeted at improving the health and well-being of underserved Chicago communities. As a Fellow, Evelyn created the Leadership, Education and Development program (LEAD) to both increase diversity in the nursing profession and support first generation high school graduates with their transition to college.

Originally implemented in April 2015, the LEAD program conducts workshops to prepare students in the healthcare field. IHSCA was chosen as the program’s supporter due to its continuing mission to advance education for minorities in the community. The students participate in a variety of activities, including listening to a panel of professional nurses discussing their career paths and visiting nursing programs at local colleges. The students also participate in discussion groups, which provide a safe space for students to share the stories of challenges they’ve faced, ranging in topics from discrimination to family life to academic hardships.

“My family immigrated to Chicago in 1978 from Mexico. We grew up in a disadvantaged neighborhood, but my siblings and I both went through college and I was the first in my family to receive a master’s degree,” Evelyn said. “My background allows me to relate to and inspire these students, telling them they can achieve anything no matter the barriers they face.”

A group of high schools students in ChicagoEvelyn notes this program has had a tremendous impact on her life as well, reinforcing her philosophy “that when you’re helping even just one student, you’re having an influence on the whole community.” In addition to working in a hospital, Evelyn said this program has allowed her to give back to the society in which she has been able to pursue her dreams of being a nurse.

“Evelyn’s dedication toward helping others overcome hurdles that she has had first-hand experience with is truly inspiring,” Henrietta Barcelo, Industry Liaison at IHSCA, said. “She has not only been an influence in offering a perspective on a career these students might not have originally thought possible, but has given them crucial networking skills they can use both in and out of the classroom every day.”

All activities are focused in large part around preparing the students for college, in allowing them to see there is opportunity for higher education in healthcare as well as detailing what skills they need in order to get there. Evelyn often conducts mock interviews and makes herself available to review application essays and personal statements. One of the essays regarding why the student was interested in nursing, Evelyn noted, stated LEAD as the driving factor in generating interest in the profession, as without the program, they wouldn’t have been exposed to the field.

When Evelyn took the students to Benedictine University to tour the campus and discuss college life, the students could see first-hand the opportunities available to them, as many had never seen a college campus before. At the end of the school year, the program honored five students for their commitment to the community and academic achievement with scholarships.

“This program was designed to empower students to advocate for themselves and ignite their passion to pursue higher education to break the cycle of poverty within their families,” Evelyn said. “There are few things in life you can control, but helping these students see an opportunity in nursing they never thought possible, it is an incredible feeling.”