Door Openers

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Story Danielle Kress | Photography Chris Hartlove

Student ambassadors show Baltimore youths the opportunities of nursing and enrich their own education in the process

While in nursing school, it’s difficult for students to find time for things aside from studying, exams, and clinical hours. But for MSN: Entry into Nursing Practice students Nikki Akinleye and Chijioke Okeke-Ekpe, hours spent outside of the classroom have taught them some of the biggest lessons of all.

As coordinator of the Dunbar Hopkins Enrichment Program, Nikki Akinleye has rebuilt and enhanced an initiative that introduces juniors and seniors from Baltimore’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School to the profession of nursing. Faculty and students work with Akinleye to give the high schoolers five to six weeks of classes covering clinical skills, degree options, resume building, job opportunities, and more. For most students, it’s their first introduction to skills needed for a health care profession, and it makes a lasting impact.

“They love this program, and it’s an investment in their future,” says Akinleye. “Many high schoolers focus on grades, but the confidence they gain by working hands-on with nurses is just as important to their success. There are not enough people in the world who say ‘you can do this,’ but I’ve seen the mindset of these students change as they see where knowledge and determination can take them.”

“I tell them they can customize their own dream and still get to the same place in the end, and you can just see the excitement growing.”
— Nikki Akinleye

Two of the most exciting days of the program are when the students learn CPR and the “Entry into Nursing” class where students discover there is no one single path to the profession. “I tell them they can customize their own dream and still get to the same place in the end, and you can just see the excitement growing.”

For Akinleye, the program has become a passion and added immense value to her own education. “You get a feeling of rejuvenation even though you’re juggling to do your own school work. I do it because I know someone is watching me, looking to know they can do it too. I try to follow what I tell the high schoolers—be academically strong, but learn to balance. It’s your time to be young, but the decisions you make today affect your lives tomorrow.”

When Chijioke Okeke-Ekpe isn’t meeting with the Men in Nursing Club or the Black Student Nurses Association, he is often helping faculty, students, and staff with new student orientations, simulations, speaking engagements, or other projects. He says everything he does outside of the classroom is to improve his insight into nursing.

“Education is more than a list of facts you’re absorbing. It’s a huge collection of people, ideas, and evidence, and the more perspective I can acquire, the better off I will be,” he says. “After all, why not take advantage of everything Hopkins has to offer me?”

Okeke-Ekpe also volunteers time to the Hopkins Dunbar program where he talks about men in nursing and helps students with mock interviews. He says it’s his space to give nursing a bigger voice. It was just a few years ago when, for lack of better-known options, he was on the road to medical school, but the guidance of a nurse encouraged him to look into becoming a family nurse practitioner.

“I wonder how many others are defaulting to medicine because they never thought of nursing as an option? That was me, but now I’m here, and I want to represent, to show them there are so many possibilities. To me, the best part of learning is not just knowing the language and skills in your own head but being able to teach it to someone else for their benefit.”

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