Summer camps bring to mind images of canoeing and bonfires. Yet the high school students taking part in the Mennonite College of Nursing’s (MCN) first PROUD summer camp will have a chance to do something quite different – be introduced to nursing as a career.

This June will be the pilot for the MCN camp called PROUD, or Pre-entry & Retention Opportunities for Undergraduate Diversity. Between 15 and 20 underserved students will take part in the three-day, two-night camp, residing in a residence hall at Illinois State.

Focusing the camp on underrepresented and underserved high schoolers is part of a larger goal to increase diversity – not just at Illinois State, but for the entire profession. “Right now, 85 percent of all nurses are white women,” said MCN Associate Dean Catherine Miller. “But the population nurses serve is not just 85 percent white women. The demographics of the nation are changing. We treat a culturally and ethnically diverse population. And we need to provide caregivers to meet the needs of a wide variety of groups.”

Miller pointed to studies that showed patients are more comfortable with health care providers with whom they can identify. “Recent studies from the Kaiser Family Foundation, Pew Report and Institute of Medicine have pointed out that patients often feel they have ‘adequate’ care from providers, but that they are much more comfortable confiding in providers whom they feel understand their background and culture.”

Camp coordinators are hoping to draw a pool of campers from their connections with area high schools. MCN students are active in elementary, middle and high schools, helping with public health education programs.

Those chosen for the camp will take part in job shadowing opportunities with several of MCN’s community health care partners. They will also participate in clinical workshops in the new simulation laboratory on campus, and hear guest speakers from Illinois State faculty and health leaders from the community.

Miller hopes the camp will offer students an exploration of the many options in the field of nursing. “Nursing can be what young people see on TV, in emergency rooms and hospitals, but it is so much more,” she said. “There are so many aspects young people might not know.” Miller offered examples such as public health initiatives, home-care alternatives and disaster preparedness. “Younger people have grown up with disasters, from hurricanes Katrina and Sandy to the Joplin tornado to 9/11. Yet they might not know the vital role nurses play in the response teams.”

The PROUD camp is just one aspect of ongoing diversity initiatives at MCN, funded from a $1.1 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Administered through the department’s Health Resources Services Administration and Nursing Workforce Diversity, the grant is geared toward recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups to the nursing profession.