Diversity & Inclusion: The School of Nursing Looks Inward to Make Impactful Change

By proactively broadening  diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, the LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing is increasing open-minded, interactive dialogues designed to enhance health care outcomes and education retention.

Group of nurses standing outside LSU School of Medicine

LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing students and faculty joined in a peaceful protest in June on Tulane Avenue to honor those victimized by racial inequality.

Whether they are nursing students, health care professionals or patients, people prefer to relate to others who look like them and who share similar cultures, ideologies or experiences. When met, those preferences result in better communication, which for health care and education translates to better outcomes, retention and success.

The LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing is committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive learning environment for students and addressing the racial and structural inequities that lead to health disparities in marginalized, underrepresented, and underserved populations. That means establishing an open, continuous and collaborative dialogue among nursing students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community.

“We have the opportunity to do the work now to transform generations, but we must be open-minded, be interactive and take risks to learn and grow from these difficult dialogues.”

Demetrius Porche, DNS, PhD, ANEF, FACHE, FAANP, FAAN, Dean of the School of Nursing

“The Dean’s Diversity Dialogue has created a safe space for faculty and staff to share, listen, learn and begin to develop true cultural humility,” says Demetrius Porche, DNS, PhD, PCC, ANEF, FACHE, FAANP, FAAN, Dean of the School of Nursing. “We focus our discussions and catalyze deep introspection. Ultimately, we hope that we not only learn about each other but also learn about ourselves to grow and develop so we can have a richer impact on our nursing students and the patients that we and our students care for into the future.”

The Dean’s Diversity Dialogue and recently initiated Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Action Plan, as well as other School of Nursing initiatives like the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Faculty Task Force; the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Student Task Force; and the LGBT+ Advocacy Program are making significant progress toward these goals.

“We have the opportunity to do the work now to transform generations, but we must be open-minded, be interactive and take risks to learn and grow from these difficult dialogues,” Dr. Porche says.

Taking the Students’ Lead on the Road Forward

The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Faculty Task Force is led by Arlisha Mason, PhD, MSN-HCSM, RN, Instructor of Clinical Nursing, and Jessica Landry, DNP, FNP-BC, Program Coordinator, BSN-DNP Primary Care Family Nurse Practitioner and Instructor of Clinical Nursing. An extension of the School of Nursing’s former Multicultural Task Force, the faculty task force looks at how diversity issues impact retention, student success and practice. The task force created a needs assessment based on input from a student committee that meets regularly to discuss diversity issues in an open forum, which recently evolved into the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Student Task Force (DEI).

“The results from the assessment were an eye opener,” Dr. Mason says. “Common themes addressed included feelings of isolation, financial assistance needs, availability of resources, racism, and an interest in more mentorship and a greater collaboration with other organizations.”

School of Nursing administrators and faculty have created objectives and initiatives based on this feedback and have incorporated some of these objectives into the School of Nursing strategic plan. Faculty and students are now jointly attending diversity, equity and inclusion trainings. In addition, Dr. Porche is creating an Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion position and the student task force is writing bylaws to become an official organization.

“I would say we are moving in the right direction,” Dr. Mason says. “Training sessions and guest speakers have focused on cultural competency approaches, holistic admissions, LGBTQ+ issues, racism and more. The School of Nursing also has a book club, which explores racism, cultural competencies, biases and cultural humiliation. Faculty are given time to read the book, topics are assigned to specific faculty members, and then we discuss our perceptions and incorporate what we learn into our professional and personal lives.”

Dr. Mason says many faculty have taken advantage of opportunities to embrace diversity and inclusion initiatives.

“Students have commented that the trainings are working, as they have seen a difference in the way faculty are embracing students’ needs and supporting them,” she says. “The last DEI meeting had 109 participants, both faculty and students, in attendance, which is significant because in the past, attendance was very poor.”

Dr. Mason says DEI members collect donations for students in need; participate in several community service activities, including Second Harvest Food Bank; collaborate with the School of Medicine on student orientation activities; and speak to high school students who are interested in the School of Nursing.

“They have scheduled guest speakers every month to speak on certain topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion, and they are in the process of transitioning from a task force to an official organization within the school,” she says. “The long-term goal is making sure students remain involved, so the purpose and passion of this committee do not fall by the wayside. This student committee has come a long way, and I’m very proud of them.”

Cultivating Academic Success and Cultural Appreciation

DEI meets once a month and, in the time of COVID-19, members have gathered via Zoom.

“We discuss a variety of topics as requested by those in need. The primary focus of this student task force is to be a safe space for students to address various issues related to diversity and inclusion,” says LaCine “Lace” Bertrand, a Senior II nursing student and DEI President. “We hope to correct barriers, with the assistance of our faculty and administration, and to increase retention of minorities and those of diverse descent. We assist our nursing student recruiter and we also hope to bring some culturally specific teachings to light that could reflect positively in our nursing practice.”

Bertrand says DEI is designed to give diverse nursing students hope.

Image of a cardboard sign that reads black nurses lives matter held up to the LSU School of Nursing building sign.
Nursing student Lauren Jackson, secretary of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Student Task Force, was among those who participated in a peaceful protest in June against racial and social injustice.

“We inspire and support each other,” Bertrand says. “We have students who can’t fail another nursing class and are at risk of being dropped from our School of Nursing. Is it because they don’t study or work hard? No. They just need additional support. I’ve heard many students mention they have family who’ve attended our school and have insight on how to study and progress through the program successfully. Other students don’t have that, so we help each other overcome obstacles and succeed.”

Bertrand says DEI has received a lot of support from the School of Nursing faculty and administration. She says a task force of this type is long overdue, and its members look to other universities’ organizations to establish goals for the future.

“We have an inventory of donated books, uniforms and student supplies to assist students, and many have received these items,” she says. “Some of our short-term goals include creating a safe space for students experiencing exclusion of any form, building a student executive board, expanding our involvement campuswide and creating DEI student bylaws. Our long-term goals will be to create an inviting and warm campus climate for various cultures, to increase the pass

and success rates of all diverse and minority students, to create an academic fund or foundation for those students with financial barriers, and much more!”

Bertrand says “uncomfortable conversations” among administration, faculty and students are essential.

“The only way our administration can change some things is to understand the problem,” she says. “Look

at the retention rate of our diverse student population. Look at our pass rate per course by diverse and minority students. Ask the older students how they are included. Follow up with students who were unsuccessful about why they weren’t successful. It’s wonderful that the LGBQT+ community is increasingly being supported and many faculty members are ‘Safe Zone’ trained. Along that line, I think a kind of ‘cultural humility’ training for faculty and administration would also be beneficial.”

Nurses and nurse-educators who better mirror their student and patient populations will deliver more equitable educational access and patient care, adds Bertrand.

“It is so important for all nurses to learn about and appreciate various cultures and for nursing students to learn in a more diverse environment so they know how to collaborate and communicate with people of various backgrounds,” Bertrand says. “There are so many students here who are not from Louisiana, who didn’t take classes at LSU Baton Rouge, who are older or who come from various walks of life. All need our support. In order to provide nursing care to such a diverse population, we need to increase the diverse student population and increase the graduation and pass rates. Equity and inclusion will help with that.”

Tackling Inclusion Issues in All Forms

During a night-shift nursing practicum, an LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing student met a transgender female patient who came to the emergency department after she was beaten. That student journaled that because she had participated in the school’s LGBT+ Advocacy Program training, she knew to ask the patient her preferred pronoun at the start – a simple question that immediately led the patient to open up so the student could provide appropriate care.

In rural north Louisiana, an instructor reported that after that same advocacy training, one of her nursing students was helping to transfer a transgender female patient to radiology. When the radiologist kept referring to the patient as “he,” the nursing student stepped in and insisted the specialist use the patient’s preferred pronouns.

“It’s wonderful to hear these stories of students standing up for patients, and we have also recently published data that shows a positive change in nursing student attitudes before and after training,” says LGBT+ Advocacy Program co-coordinator Todd Tartavoulle, DNS, APRN, CNS-BC, Program Director for the Traditional BSN Program and Associate Professor of Clinical Nursing.

Dr. Tartavoulle runs the program with Dr. Landry, who introduced it at the school in 2019 after attending Safe Zone training. To date, more than 1,800 individuals – including nursing students, health care providers and hospital administrators – have been through Advocacy Program training.

“We are capturing an aspect of diversity that is not touched on a lot,” he explains. “Diversity and inclusion encompass acceptance and respect of everyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, age, socioeconomic status, physical abilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, political belief or other ideologies. We’re bringing issues to the forefront from one cog of the wheel – gender identity and sexual orientation.”

Dr. Tartavoulle says he’s proud to be part of the broader diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at the school.

“We need to be aware of who we are and what our biases are so faculty can more meaningfully communicate with students, students can more meaningfully communicate with each other, and we can all understand, appreciate and provide better care to the patients we serve,” he says.

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