ASPIRE Nurse Scholars High School Program Develops Future Nurses

A Q&A with one of the first ASPIRE graduates

By Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC

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This month, the Stanley Shalom Zielony Institute for Nursing Excellence will welcome 26 high school students into the third cohort of its coveted ASPIRE Nurse Scholars program.

The 12-week enrichment program is open to high school juniors in Northeast Ohio who are interested in pursuing a career in nursing. Students are chosen to participate in the program based on their GPA, a short essay, recommendations and an interview. Scholars are taught the ins and outs of relationship-based care, research and evidence-based practice, simulation healthcare and more. They take part in a shadowing program as well as classroom learning and also receive professionalism coaching.

Following program graduation, scholars return as mentors for future ASPIRE classes and eventually have the opportunity to earn a full scholarship to Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) for a registered nursing degree.

ASPIRE was the brainchild of Cleveland Clinic’s Executive Chief Nursing Officer K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC, and Nick and Lorie Howley of the Howley Family Foundation.

Two years after the program’s launch, the first ASPIRE scholars are now in the midst of their first year of nursing school at Tri-C, the program’s partner academic institution. In this Q&A, Hancock and her communications team talk with ASPIRE graduate and first-year Tri-C nursing student, CharRay Washington, about her ASPIRE experience and how the program continues to support her and fellow ASPIRE participants.

Q:  How did ASPIRE impact your decision to pursue a career in nursing?

A:  I first found out about the ASPIRE program through my high school’s scholarship offerings (Shaker Heights High School). Although I didn’t know much about the program when I applied, I knew I wanted to be a nurse. But participating in ASPIRE definitely confirmed that for me.

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Q:  What did you like most about ASPIRE?

A:  The education I received was so detailed! As a junior in high school, I was already shadowing healthcare professionals in actual patient settings – something you traditionally don’t have the opportunity to do until later in your higher education. I shadowed nurses in inpatient, ambulatory and office settings, completing my shadowing experience on a medical-surgical unit at Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital. I met clinical and surgical technicians and got a glimpse into how a healthcare team functions. I learned about Cleveland Clinic’s values and history, what the Howley Family Foundation does, the many different types of nursing career paths, and more. The combination of shadowing and hands-on experience really helped me finalize my decision to become a nurse, and to work at Cleveland Clinic.

Q:  After completing the 12-week experience as a junior in high school, what did you do next?

A:  After completing the program, I became an ASPIRE mentor, assisting the next class of ASPIRE students. Additionally, my ASPIRE classmates and I continued to meet monthly with the program coordinator, Daria Sheaf, MSN, RN, and her team for ongoing guidance and support. I can’t say enough about the coordinators and all they do. They are always there for me, helping to address and remove any barriers and guiding me.

My ASPIRE coordinators helped me prepare to become a patient care nursing assistant (PCNA), a role I could apply for after graduating from high school and turning 18. They spent a lot of time helping me understand the PCNA role and what would be expected of me in the role. As I observed Cleveland Clinic caregivers, I saw what empathy looks like and the importance of making a human connection when caring for patients. That observation, combined with guidance from my ASPIRE coordinators, helped me better understand how I could deliver thoughtful care. I was hired as a PCNA at Hillcrest Hospital in July 2018 and immediately began training with Cleveland Clinic’s nursing education team. I recently celebrated my six-month anniversary as a PCNA and I feel much more confident in my abilities as a nursing caregiver.

The coordinators also helped me with my transition from high school to college. They showed me how to apply, what classes to register for and more. Prior to starting nursing school, they worked with my academic advisors to map out an academic plan for me, and my fellow ASPIRE classmates. That was really helpful, and my transition to Tri-C has been very smooth.

Q:  Now that you are a nursing student, how has your involvement with ASPIRE continued?

A:  Our original ASPIRE group continues to meet once a month with our program coordinators, who help us with school-related questions. And they guide us and help us to overcome challenges we might be struggling with. We all cherish our time together – it’s very special.

Additionally, all of the ASPIRE graduates try to take our classes together and really stick together as we make our way through school. We take advantage of tutoring and mentoring opportunities available to us through ASPIRE and Tri-C.

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I’m very thankful that my full tuition and books are paid for through the ASPIRE scholarship, and that I receive a generous monthly stipend. By participating in this program, I know I’m going to become an awesome nurse and will always have a support system. ASPIRE changed my life.

Learn more about the ASPIRE Nurse Scholars program.

Kelly Hancock is the Executive Chief Nursing Officer of the Cleveland Clinic Health System, and Chief Nursing Officer of Cleveland Clinic Main Campus.

Follow Kelly on Twitter at @kkellyhancock.