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UF Health mentorship program inspires next generation of Gator nurses

(Left) Lakeshia Cousin, Kim Martinez, Courtney Bowen and Eastside High School teacher LaMonica Davis partnered to offer health care mentorship sessions for over 20 students.The homegrown nurse leaders of tomorrow may soon sprout from Gainesville’s own backyard, thanks to a new UF-led community outreach and mentorship effort.

Launched to improve diversity and retention in the health care workforce, UF Health and the UF College of Nursing recently concluded a first-ever nurse mentorship program for more than 20 Eastside High School students. Over six sessions during the spring semester with UF Health Shands nurses who graduated from the Gainesville school, as well as College of Nursing faculty, students learned what it is like to work as a professional nurse, discovered the career’s educational requirements and gained hands-on experience by practicing clinical skills, such as how to check blood pressure.

A select number of students also received full funding to earn their Certified Nursing Assistant license through Gator CNA, a preparatory course that offers the nursing assistant competency exam. That will allow them to secure an entry-level clinical job at UF Health and could serve as both a model for underserved students to enter jobs in health care after graduation.

For College of Nursing assistant professor Lakeshia Cousin, Ph.D., APRN, the opportunity to give back to the community is a way to repay a life-changing experience she had as a high school student.

Prior to becoming a tenure-track faculty member at Florida’s preeminent nursing institution, Cousin struggled with school and did not believe that a nursing career or higher education was in the cards until she happened to go on a college tour through a community mentorship program. For her, having the chance to share her perspective and words of wisdom with others — now as a mentor — felt utterly appropriate.

“Before nearly dropping out, my life changed because of a mentorship experience and the power of representation,” she said. “It is important for our students to feel seen and know that they can achieve bigger goals outside of whatever situation they are going through. Having nurse mentors who walked the same life path as them deliver the message that anything is possible and encourage students to imagine themselves in their shoes is a huge source of empowerment.”

The program originally got its start when Cousin — in collaboration with UF Health Unit 66 clinical nurse leader Kim Martinez, M.S.N., R.N., CCRN, and nurse specialist Courtney Bowen, M.S.N., R.N., R.N.-B.C. — saw a need to increase the number of nurses choosing to build their careers locally. The program allows potential nurses to find support at a much earlier age than current outreach used by the health system, introducing high school students with strong community roots to the career path.

“Our hypothesis is that these nursing professionals will be more likely to continue their careers at UF Health,” Martinez said. “By giving young people the tools they need to succeed in their careers at the earliest stage possible, this could have an enormous impact on their long-term success.”

For students like Eastside High School senior Amaya Monroe, the experience marks the first step in what she hopes will be a long-lasting health care career.

”It was a very rewarding opportunity,” Monroe said. “I want to get a job at Shands and then go to college, and this mentorship program set me up in a position to do just that.”

The mentorship program was supported by UF Health’s Demonstration Project initiative, which pairs teams of UF Health nurses and College of Nursing faculty to address the complex challenges facing the health care system today. The team plans to pursue additional grant funding to host the program on an annual basis.

Photos from the event will be available here.

Media contact: Kyle Chambers at or 352-273-6360

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