As chief nursing officer of Akron (Ohio) Children's Hospital, the largest academic pediatric hospital in the state, Lisa Aurilio knew that if her staff better reflected the patients served, care would also be improved.

So in 2014, Aurilio helped spearhead a hospitalwide effort to address the lack of diversity among staff. For her achievements she has been named the recipient of the inaugural Diversity in Nursing Award, recognizing efforts to improve diversity in the nursing ranks.

Among the initiatives was a recruitment program called Assuring Success with a Commitment to Enhance Nurse Diversity, also known as ASCEND, which Aurilio helped lead. The program offers 10 weeks of professional nursing experience during the summer at Akron Children's to nursing students from local universities. The students get hands-on nursing experience with a mentor and focus on topics like teamwork and cultural competence.

At the end of the 10 weeks, the students have the opportunity to apply for nurse technician positions available at the hospital. After some time as a nurse tech, they then have the chance to work as a full-time registered nurse at the hospital.

Ten of the 19 nursing students that participated in the first ASCEND venture in the summer of 2015 have been hired as registered nurses at Akron. This past summer, 23 students participated in ASCEND and 17 signed up to work as nurse techs. Aurilio said she anticipates many will have RN positions.

Aurilio, 51, said competition to be a pediatric nurse in the region is fierce. The consolidation of pediatric hospitals with larger systems has made it difficult for pediatric nurses to find employment at facilities. “I usually have many applicants, so we took a step back and said, 'Let's recruit specific nurses that will help improve our diversity plan rather than just keep the pipeline going.' ”

Aurilio and her nursing team have also partnered with local middle schools and high schools to speak with students about the benefits of a career in the nursing field. Aurilio said a career in nursing competes with many other career paths inside and outside of healthcare. It is important for both female and male students to consider an RN degree early on in their education. “It is really important to get the message out to the really young folks who haven't thought about their career choice, about what a wonderful, fulfilling profession nursing can be for all genders and ethnicities.”
—Maria Castellucci