Building the pipeline to a more diverse nursing workforce

Building the pipeline to a more diverse nursing workforce
By Nicole Etter
August 30, 2021

When Karen and Bob Desjardins first heard about Arrupe College’s transformational work with students from underrepresented backgrounds at Loyola University Chicago, it sparked their interest. As they learned more, the spark kindled into a flame that would blaze a new path for their family’s giving—and for the students’ lives they were about to change.

Bob (MD ’71, MRES ’74) says they were amazed by the “really spectacularly successful” results of Arrupe College, which pairs a rigorous, affordable Jesuit education with intensive, wraparound support services. Arrupe students have a two-year graduation rate that is more than three times the national average for community college students. More than 70% of Arrupe graduates who pursue a baccalaureate degree graduate within five years, far above the national average for underrepresented transfer students.

The Desjardins understand the importance of education. Bob spent 12 years at Loyola between his undergraduate studies, medical school, and residency before transitioning to a successful career in medical research. Karen initially earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and later earned a master’s in nursing, a Master of Public Health, and doctoral degree as a nurse practitioner. She has dedicated decades of her career to training the next generation of nurses at Columbia University’s School of Nursing, where she served as Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs and Director of the Master’s Direct Entry to Nursing program.

They are keenly aware that attaining a baccalaureate college degree can be a significant challenge for students from underrepresented groups like racial or ethnic minorities, first generation college students, and those from lower socio-economic households. Bob and Karen are passionate about opportunity equity, which motivates their desire to invest in these students.

Today, the couple supports scholarships through the Arrupe Pathway to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Pathway students start their nursing coursework during their second year at Arrupe. The Desjardins’ gift covers the final three years of nursing education for two students.

As the United States population becomes increasingly diverse, it is important for the nursing workforce to reflect that diversity to help ensure good clinical outcomes. Currently, racial and ethnic minorities are drastically underrepresented in the healthcare professions. “We know patients are more satisfied with care when seeing a provider of the same racial and/or ethnic background,” says Karen. “Bob and I realize that this Pathway to Nursing may help improve the pipeline of minorities into the nursing profession. The success of Arrupe students is so high that we knew we wanted to be involved.”

The Desjardins call Arrupe students “an inspiration” and hope that their gift inspires others to support additional Pathway students. “I think there are a lot more students at Arrupe coming through who would benefit and love to have the opportunity to pursue this pathway,” says Bob.