Minority Students & Healthcare Education: An Online Guide to School Success

Students of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and other minorities can face numerous barriers when training in healthcare. If you’re a minority and thinking about a career in allied health, learn about the resources and support you have available in higher education.

An estimated 40% of the population today identifies as minority; however, only 17% of nurses identify that way. Why does this matter? It speaks to the need for a more diverse healthcare system. Increased representation across cultures, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations creates a professional environment more in line with the patients it serves.

One path to more diversity in healthcare is education. Not only encouraging more persons of color and other minorities to pursue healthcare degrees, but supporting their academic and personal journeys from start to finish. In 2012, the ISRN Nursing Journal reviewed survey results from minority students in nursing. The goal? To identify the biggest challenges they faced when seeking or enrolled in a medical education program. The study found that while results varied by individual, many minority students faced a number of barriers in common, both inside and outside of the classroom.

This guide takes a look at each of these barriers in detail, and offers multiple solutions that minority students can use to take charge of their allied health education.

Challenge: Financial Support

Challenge: Financial Support

Financial support is critical to every college student. But among minority students in the ISRN Nursing Journal study, a significant lack of financial support was noted. Some of this stemmed from a need to work through school to make ends meet, which in turn required dropping to part-time study and thus extending their program completion date. But even with part-time study, the realities of working a full-time job can mean grades suffer. In addition, there is the added need to bring in a paycheck to not only pay for education expenses, but to afford the day-to-day requirements of living expenses.

To combat these issues, many turned to student loans. But upon graduation, those loans come due with a vengeance, taking away the freedom that many graduates hoped to find after school was over. The good news is that many students can avoid loans by looking at a variety of financing options that won’t break the bank with high interest rates or not-so-good terms of repayment. Here are a few solutions catered specifically to minority students.

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Solution #1: Prioritize Scholarships

Scholarships can have a huge impact on the financial bottom line of any nursing program. Scholarship awards do not have to be paid back, which means they are essentially free money – and who would turn that down? But the students surveyed in the ISRN Nursing Journal indicated they received little to no information regarding the availability of scholarships they might be eligible to obtain.

There are numerous scholarships out there, and some are earmarked for only those from minority groups. Merit-based scholarships look at an applicant’s academic history and similar factors to reward good grades, a high GPA and the like. Need-based scholarships look at how much a student really needs the financial boost. The following list includes both types of scholarships available for minority applicants who intend to pursue a degree in healthcare.

Amount: $2,500 to $5,000

Eligibility: Open to undergraduate or graduate students who are pursuing a degree in a healthcare field that will allow them to work with behavioral health patients.

Amount: $1,000

Eligibility: Applicants must have a recognized disability and be studying in a field that relates to health and disability.

Amount: Varies

Eligibility: This scholarship is designed for Native American men and women who are pursing any higher education program, including those in healthcare.

Amount: $500 to $2,000

Eligibility: Students must be pursuing a healthcare profession and be recent graduates of San Diego County schools. Latino residents are encouraged to apply.

Amount: Varies

Eligibility: Awarded to an aspiring male nurse pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree or higher.

Quick Tips: How to Land a Scholarship

1. Pay attention to every detail.
Scholarships are highly competitive, so your application and supporting documentation must be perfect. Don’t skip any sections, don’t ignore any requests, and get started on the application early.

2. Never miss a deadline.
When a scholarship committee says their window for admissions will close on a certain date, believe it! Get your application in well before that deadline arrives.

3. Apply for everything you qualify for.
Never leave money on the table. Apply to every scholarship for which you fit the criteria. Don’t hesitate to reach for some scholarship awards for which are you “borderline” either – you just might be surprised.

4. Ask questions.
Don’t just do an online search for scholarships and be done with it. Contact the school of choice and ask them what scholarships they offer. Are there any available for minorities? Ask them where you might find other options for financial help.

5. Look at organizations.
There are many businesses, organizations and companies that don’t advertise their scholarships, but do offer them to deserving candidates. Contact minority support groups as a way to begin the process of looking for these “underground” scholarships that can help foster your educational goals.

Want more information on applying for scholarships? Check out this page on Federal Student Aid.

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Solution #2: Focus on Affordable Tuition

Everyone wants to find an affordable education, but that is getting more difficult as the years go by. According to the College Board, in the ten years between the 2008-2009 and 2018-2019 school years, tuition and fees rose by $930 for community colleges, $2,670 at public four-year universities, and $7,390 at private nonprofit four-year institutions. All signs indicate that the numbers will keep going up.

What does this mean for an aspiring student? It’s time to get serious about finding ways to lower that bottom line. The following are solid ideas for more affordable tuition that will hold you in good stead no matter what your degree path.

1. Complete pre-requisites at community college.

Community colleges tend to offer the basic, foundational courses for most programs at much lower tuition costs than you might find at four-year colleges and universities. By spending the first year or two in community college, you could save thousands off the cost of earning a degree.

2. Apply for scholarships and grants.

Scholarships and grants are easy ways to obtain money that doesn’t have to be paid back. In most cases, they will directly reduce the costs of tuition, or they will provide you with some money to pay for books, fees and the like. Apply for as many scholarships as you can. Never leave money on the table!

3. Look into payment plans.

Once you’ve brought tuition and fees down as low as possible, it’s time to look into tuition plans. These plans allow you to spread out tuition payments over the course of a semester to make the financial bottom line a bit easier to handle. To learn more, talk to your financial aid advisor about what options are available to you.

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Solution #3: Online & Hybrid Learning

There was a time not long ago when higher education required a student to be on a physical campus, attending courses in a classroom setting. Today, online and hybrid education has made life much easier for those pinching their pennies. Online education has cut out the potential moving and living expenses required of someone who must move to a physical location near the school they attend; it has also cut out the commuting time and cost, as well as eliminating the cost of many campus-based services. And in some cases, schools will offer in-state or flat-rate tuition for online students, providing an added savings bonus.

Want to know more about online learning? These resources are a great place to start.

Online Learning Resources

  1. iHomework 2: An app to keep students organized.
  2. Open Culture: A place to learn about things you didn’t know you wanted to learn about.
  3. Getting Smart: The best of online learning across the web.
  4. Study Guide Zone: A free resource to help with studying and learning.
  5. Introduction to Online Teaching and Learning: This resource provides information on how online learning really works.
  6. Online Schools & Programs in Healthcare: Our own guide to online learning in the field of allied health.
Types of Schools

Types of Schools

Before filling out applications, make sure you know which types of schools offer healthcare education programs. And, most importantly, figure out which schools make sense for you. For example, a four-year university may be great for you and your healthcare career goals, but it may be less than ideal for someone else. Read about each school type and who might benefit from its healthcare education programs.

  • Community college:
    These schools are great for those seeking two-year degrees in a variety of fields, including allied health. For those who want to earn more than an associate degree, community colleges still offer general education courses at a price usually lower than that found at four-year schools. If you’re looking to get an associate degree or certificate and get into the workforce quickly, community college is for you. But steer clear if you plan to transfer into a bachelor’s degree program but your community college doesn’t have articulation agreements with your chosen four-year institution.
  • Career/vocational training:
    If you’re looking for a healthcare career that takes little formal training and gets you into the workforce fast, a career, vocational or trade school might be the answer for you. For instance, careers like that of phlebotomist, dental assistant or medical assistant can be launched with a certification or diploma from a vocational school. Steer clear if you think you might want to upgrade to a degree – all your hard work from the trade school might not transfer to community college or university.
  • Four-year college:
    If your chosen healthcare profession requires a bachelor’s degree, this is your option. Colleges and universities offer bachelor’s programs as well as graduate studies, each of which can come in handy when seeking a degree that allows for advancement. However, steer clear if you’re looking for something that can be earned with an associate degree, as these schools tend to be much more expensive than community colleges.
  • For-profit college:
    These schools provide an opportunity to get a certificate, diploma or degree while working at your own pace. For-profit colleges are great for those who want to get into the workforce quickly and have some disposable income to devote to their career goals. However, steer clear if you might need further financial assistance, as most for-profit schools are on the expensive side and might not offer as hefty financial aid. It’s also important to make sure any for-profit college, just as any other school, holds current accreditation.
Challenge: Emotional Support

Challenge: Emotional Support

Minority students surveyed indicated challenges in finding emotional support. Many reported they felt isolation and loneliness, as well as occasional discrimination from professors and peers. Some viewed those of minority status as somehow having less knowledge or a weaker skill set. Many even struggled with family support, finding that school was often seen as not that important when compared to family obligations, or that long-held beliefs about what jobs were “right” for a woman or a man kept them from pursuing a career they really held an interest in.

The key takeaway is that students must be aware of the biases that present themselves during the educational journey. By being aware of what to expect and able to spot the issues before they become too large to handle, students can know when it’s time to reach out for support. The following tips can help those who are simply looking for a helping hand or a listening ear – and that can be enough to help you through the tough times in college.

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Solution #1: Minority Student Support Groups

One of the best places to find support is through a variety of minority student support groups. Most schools, even those that are primarily online, will offer these groups as a way for individuals to connect with their peers and find support to deal with challenges that are unique to their minority status. These can be anything from simple discussion boards to weekly meet-up groups to those that offer more formal help, such as assistance with resumes, job interviews, tutoring, and more. Here are a few options to give you an idea of what’s out there:

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Solution #2: Cross-Cultural Support Groups

Cross cultural support groups are just what they sound like: Groups of people on campus or online who are devoted to supporting the understanding and learning of different cultures. These inclusive groups are made up of individuals from all walks of life, all colors and creeds, and they often work to spread the love of diversity on campus. Students can go to these groups to find a listening ear and a helping hand, as well as to find a way to turn their passions into action. Here are a few of them:

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Solution #3: Target Larger Programs

Keep in mind that there’s strength in numbers. The larger the school or program, the more students will be enrolled, and the more likely you’ll find a more diverse cohort. You can also look to smaller schools that have a strong focus on creating a diverse atmosphere, such as a historically black college or university, or a school that has a strong focus on attracting women and minorities. To find schools that fit this “strength in numbers” ideal, research program enrollment and student demographics through the Department of Education, or call the school directly to ask questions about what they offer for minority students.  

Challenge: Academic Guidance

Challenge: Academic Guidance

Many students featured in the ISRN Nursing Journal study said they felt ill-equipped to successfully move through their academic program. This might be especially true for non-traditional students, who often juggle the important roles of spouse, parent, caregiver, and more with the rigors of attending school. Finding balance between social, family, and educational life is a true challenge, one that can be made easier through the appropriate support on the academic front. Here’s how to find the support you need to succeed.

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Solution #1: Talk to an Admissions Counselor Before Applying

When it comes time to apply to the schools of your choice, you can’t go wrong with contacting an admissions counselor. These professionals work hard to ensure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision about a school or program; they also work to help you with various aspects of the application, such as walking through transcripts with you or helping you figure out how your courses, credits, and experience line up with your program of interest. The counselor can also advise you on necessary prerequisites and help you identify potential issues with program requirements.

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Solution #2: Visit the Tutoring Center

Most schools offer a tutoring center, which can help with everything from the intricacies of writing a good essay to figuring out that troublesome math problem. Even if you don’t currently need tutoring, it’s worth checking into what’s offered, such as what subjects they cover, the hours they are open, and how the process works. If you ever need to use the services, you can hit the ground running. In addition to tutoring services offered by the school, there are also some great options available online, such as:

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Solution #3: Set Goals, and Make them Realistic

When choosing a college program in a healthcare field, stay as realistic as possible about what you can do and what you can’t. If you’re working a full-time (or even part-time) job, taking care of loved ones, paying attention to classes every day, and juggling a dozen other commitments, studying during every waking moment in between class is not realistic. Rather, plan your time carefully, scheduling yourself so that you can focus entirely on your studies during a certain period of time. Be well aware not only of your abilities, but your limitations, too. This can help you set realistic goals as to what you can really accomplish with the time you have.

The Importance of Accreditation & Recognition

The Importance of Accreditation & Recognition

Well before you apply to a program, understanding the ins and outs of accreditation and recognition is a major key to success. It’s important to understand not only the difference between the two, but which schools and training programs have the credentials you need to be prepared for board exams and be taken seriously by employers. Here’s a quick look at the main types of accreditation and recognition in healthcare education:

  • Regional accreditation:
    Regional accrediting bodies cover a variety of states, and accredit schools only within those states. This accreditation means several important things, such as improving the availability of federal financial aid, ensuring credits will transfer to similarly accredited schools, and awarding a degree that will be recognized by employers across the country and the world. Regional accreditation is the gold standard for colleges and universities; schools go through a multi-year process to gain and keep their status in good standing.
  • Programmatic accreditation:
    Just as regional accreditation looks at the school as a whole, programmatic accreditation looks at the quality of a particular program. This accreditation is important for those who might want to earn a credential that requires graduation from an accredited program. For instance, the Commission on Dental Accreditation accredits dental hygiene programs; this accreditation is required by almost all states for a dental hygienist to obtain a license to practice.
  • National accreditation:
    This accreditation often applies to certain types of schools, such as religious or seminary schools. National accreditation is not restricted to a particular region; it is available to schools all over the country. It’s important to remember that while credits from regionally accredited institutions might transfer to a nationally accredited institution, the reverse is not often true.
  • Recognition:
    When a program earns recognition, it is often denoted by something along the lines of “recognized by the Texas State Board of Nursing.” This means the program meets the standards issued by the board of nursing in that state. It’s different from accreditation in that approval or recognition might be narrower than accreditation; on the other hand, it might be much broader, depending upon the state. Recognition of a nursing program is usually required to sit for state boards.
Challenge: Minority Mentors & Role Models

Challenge: Minority Mentors & Role Models

It’s tough to face challenges alone. For a minority student in a field that isn’t representative of the population at large, it can be difficult to find mentors, role models, and helpers who can relate to what you’re going through. According to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, only 13% of full-time nursing faculty identify as minorities. However, those faculty members tend to recognize the challenges minority students face and become active participants in helping those students reach their educational goals. Let’s take a look at some ways to find those role models and mentors everyone needs.

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Solution #1: Target Programs with Minority Faculty

When choosing a school or program, look for diversity in the faculty. Take a look at the programs you’re most interested in, and then search for the faculty page. They’re there to teach you, but they’re also there to help you navigate the college world through what might sometimes be unique challenges. Reach out to them, ask questions, and pay attention to their insight. As an added bonus, by contacting faculty early and asking intelligent questions, you just might find a good mentor who can help you through college and beyond.

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Solution #2: Network

Networking with individuals in your program, especially the faculty and staff in your program’s department, can hold you in good stead after graduation. Networking with minority professors and staff is especially helpful for those who hope to get a bit of extra attention during hiring time. These networking resources can help get you started:

Networking Resources

Challenge: Cultural Competence

Challenge: Cultural Competence

Cultural competence is the ability to relate to those who have cultural practices different from our own. It requires certain skills that might not come easily, such as developing personal awareness and sensitivity, diving into knowledge about cultures you don’t understand, and using the resulting skills to reflect a new attitude in relationships with peers, educators, and coworkers. Cultural competence plants a deep seed of respect for diversity and encourages that same respect among others who come into contact with someone who knows how to be sensitive to a variety of cultures. There are four primary components in cultural competence:

1. Awareness:

Having the capacity for cultural self-assessment

2. Sensitivity:

Becoming conscious of the microdynamics in inherent in cultural interactions

3. Knowledge:

Developing a knowledge base about other cultures

4. Skills:

Reflecting competence in relationships

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Solution: Share Your Experiences

Sharing experiences helps others. Sharing positive experiences can serve to uplift and inspire. Sharing negative experiences can provide insight that helps others learn to navigate their own challenges. Make a point of sharing those experiences, both good and bad. Actively listen when others talk about what they’ve been through, ask intelligent questions, and engage in discussions that challenge your deep-held beliefs and open up your understanding of others. The more we communicate, the more we learn, and the better our world becomes.

For more information on cultural competence and its importance, read our guide on Diversity in Healthcare.