In the face of a nationwide nursing shortage, the University of Arizonas College of Nursing is recruiting more students from underrepresented backgrounds.

After receiving a $1.9 million federal grant in 2018, the college established the Arizona Nursing Inclusive Excellence (ANIE) program the following year.

It focuses on recruiting students from populations that are integral to Arizona, but are often underrepresented in the healthcare workforce: Native American/Hawaiian, Hispanic or Latinx, first generation college students, and residents from rural or border communities.

Carolina Medina, set to graduate at the end of the year, comes from a Hispanic background and is a first generation college student.

I became a nurse because it was my grandmas dream, she told KGUN. And sadly she passed away about two weeks ago. So this opportunity really helped me be able to take care of her during her last few days. And I feel grateful.

Rising senior Victor Anaya is from in Douglas.

Growing up, you dont realize the health disparities, but as you get older you realize that theres so many health disparities, what we have compared to Tucson or Phoenix, he said.

Yulissa Cardenas also recognizes the lack of healthcare availability in many rural areas.

It was the summers I spent in Willcox, Arizona, caring for my grandparents and helping them navigate the medical world, with not knowing how to speak English, that made me want to be an advocate and a bright light for my patients, she said. They would have to drive at least an hour to find a medical provider that they could visit for doctors appointments. And not a lot of people that are living in these big, urban areas realize that.

The College of Nursing says its seen about a five percent increase in enrolled ethnic minority nursing students since the program began, but the goal is to even better represent the population of Arizona.

The program focuses on providing students both faculty and peer mentors to foster a sense of belonging, even in a competitive program and high-stress occupation.

When you are in a room or a learning setting with people who understand kind of the unspoken dialogue of your background, it does something to help you feel that you belong to this place, and feel connected, said Timian Godfrey, an associate clinical professor at the College of Nursing and a nurse practitioner that works with providers in Sells, on the Tohono Oodham Nation.

If youre from that community, you have a way to connect with people, but also develop that trust and rapport with the patient populations that youre caring for, she added. And I think that is the way that were going to elevate the health of Arizona, is to cultivate and grow our own and be able to provide that care in a way that, again, no one else could. Because these are our friends, these are our families.

We know through evidence-based practice that by looking like somebody that theyre treating, theyre going to have better patient outcomes, said Linda Perez, principal lecturer at the College of Nursing.

Beyond the frequent mentoring, the students have spent time immersed in different cultural and clinical settings, like migrant shelters or on the Navajo Nation.

That strategy is meant to close gaps between cultures, preparing them to provide care somewhere new. The program also encourages those who want to return to make the communities where they grew up healthier.

I always found such a profound feeling to be [in] a medical profession, to say, I wanna be a lending hand to my community, said Anaya. So thats what I plan to do. And that is such a powerful thing to have that inner motivation.