Innovative Health Equity Program at Rutgers University-Camden Wins National Nursing Award

By Mike Sepanic, Rutgers University-Camden, September 12, 2018

A new model for educating nurses developed by the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden has received a 2018 American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Innovations in Professional Nursing Education Award.

The certificate in Spanish for the health professions program at the Rutgers–Camden nursing school, which seeks to promote health equity for underserved Latino and immigrant populations by strengthening Spanish language skills among future health care professionals, earned the award, which recognizes the outstanding work of AACN member schools to re-envision traditional models for nursing education and lead programmatic change.

“Health professionals must be able to serve diverse communities, which is why Rutgers–Camden created this innovative program,” says Donna Nickitas, dean of the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden. “We are gratified that the AACN has recognized this exemplary program and its potential to elevate the health of all of our communities.”

The program was developed with the support of a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s International and Foreign Language Education office to Rutgers University–Camden. The grant unites a diverse array of Rutgers–Camden campus programs, including the School of Nursing, the Department of World Languages and Cultures’ Spanish program, the Community Leadership Center, and the Learning Abroad program. Atlantic Cape Community College is part of this interdisciplinary coalition, which launched in 2016 and incorporates Learning Abroad programs in such nations as Bolivia, Cuba, and Guatemala.

Dana Pilla, assistant teaching professor, and Ana Laguna, associate professor, both faculty members in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, serve as co-directors of the Spanish for the Health Professions Internal Certificate Program.

Projects nominated for the AACN innovation award must be sustainable for at least one year after execution, serve as a catalyst for change within the curriculum and/or educational mission of the institution, have the potential for replication and dissemination, involve cross-disciplinary teams, and demonstrate advancement of professional nursing education.

“We need to educate nurses and other health providers across sectors to better communicate in the languages of those we serve. This needs to be broadened and become a standard of practice,” says Nancy Pontes, an assistant professor of nursing who serves as a co-leader of the interdisciplinary program nominated for the award. Pontes notes that improving the Spanish language skills of students and future health care providers is “perfect for Camden,” where about 40 percent of the city’s residents speak Spanish, according to U.S. Census data.

The AACN grants innovation awards annually in four institutional categories: Small Schools; Academic Health Center (AHC); Private Schools without an AHC; and Public Schools without an AHC. The Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden will receive the 2018 award in the Public Schools without an Academic Health Centers category at the AACN Academic Nursing Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., during Oct. 27 to 30.