Independence Blue Cross Foundation Healthcare scholars

Independence Blue Cross Foundation Healthcare scholars SaKeesha Similen, Jamirah Branch, Justine Jones and Hannah Mahler at an event Tuesday at Temple University.

—TRIBUNE PHOTO/ABDUL R. SULAYMAN

Funding from a new program is helping Justine Jones reach her goal of becoming a trauma nurse.

“Initially I didn’t know what kind of nurse I wanted to be but as I got older and started to pay more attention to my community I realized that I really wanted to be a trauma nurse,” said Jones, whose mother is a geriatric nurse.

“In my personal opinion that’s the best way that I could give back to my community, by helping them emotionally and physically get through the things that are happening in Philadelphia.”

The graduate of Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School is one of five Temple students participating in the Independence Blue Cross Foundation Healthcare Scholars Pipeline Program.

On Tuesday, Independence announced a $750,000 grant, funding a collaboration with Temple University’s College of Public Health and Department of Nursing to create a direct pathway to nursing from high school to college for students of color.

“I really wanted to thank Independence Blue Cross for giving me this opportunity because not only are you putting your money and time into me, you’re putting money and time into the community,” Jones said during an event at Temple University’s Charles Library.

“I promise you that I will take this opportunity and I will use it to give back to the community.”

The 18-year-old North Philadelphia native plans to become a nursing professor and help educate future nurses.

The new pipeline program provides full four-year scholarships that cover tuition and educational expenses for minority students pursing a bachelor’s degree at Temple. The goal is to raise awareness of nursing as a career and help students meet nursing school admissions criteria. Scholarship recipients will have the opportunity to secure job placements within the Temple University Health System upon graduation.

The initiative is being led by Dr. Jennifer Brown, assistant professor of nursing at Temple.

“Through this new IBC Foundation Healthcare Scholars Pipeline Program we will change the trajectory of students’ lives,” she said.

“This pipeline program will enable these students to focus their time and efforts on their studies. It will help to reduce their financial stresses, build secure futures and reduce unemployment in their communities. Most of these students are the first in their families to attend college. Their success will be transformative.”

Greg Deavens, president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross, said the company is proud to support Temple in providing full nursing scholarships to a cohort of students of color from local high schools.

“This is one way we are taking aim at racial and economic disparities that need to be reduced or eliminated so that the American health care system can reach its full potential,” he said.

“If we have a diverse health care workforce that recognizes the humanity of all patients they serve and delivers culturally competent care we will be a step closer to creating true health equity,” Deavens continued.

“So we have to make sure that economic hardship does not stand in the way of any young person who wants to pursue a career in nursing.”

Deavens said the foundation has invested more than $26 million in funding to support nursing initiatives throughout the last 20 years.

“It is important for us at Temple University to make sure that the students that we are training and preparing are able to meet the demands of the workforce — so they can get jobs and they can be prepared to do those jobs well and stay gainfully employed for their careers,” Temple President Jason Wingard said.

“This type of program will reach into the community and establish a pipeline of students who otherwise wouldn’t have this kind of opportunity and then we bring them into Temple University to get degrees and training through an innovative curriculum in nursing. This is phenomenal.”

He underscored the importance of Independence and the university coming together to do this type of work.

Only 5% of Philadelphia’s nurses are Black, according to Independence officials. The 2020-2023 Future of Nursing Report by the National Academy of Medicine emphasized the diverse health care needs of changing populations and advised that nurse education programs expand recruitment of diverse students.

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