The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) and the Area Health Education Centers for a Healthy Louisiana (AHEC) recently held “A Rainbow of Short White Coats” program to inspire minority students to pursue careers in healthcare. The program is part of LDH’s fiscal year 2022 Business Plan strategy to diversify the state’s health workforce and improve patient experiences for people of color.

About 35 students from the Incarnate Word Head Start and Early Head Start in New Orleans were adorned in short white coats, the symbol of a commitment to lifelong learning in healthcare, which they will keep as a memento. The students also participated in various activities. The school is operated by the Catholic Charities of New Orleans (CCANO).

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 56.2% of all active physicians in the U.S. in 2018 identified as white, 5.8% as Hispanic and 5.0% as Black. Louisiana’s Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) demographic data reflect a similar trend. The vast majority of licensed APRNs in Louisiana are white - 83% - and only 14% are Black.

“Investing in and building a more diverse healthcare workforce plays a substantial role in improving health access and outcomes," said LDH Secretary Dr. Courtney Phillips. "When we talk about reducing and eliminating healthcare disparities, increasing minority and rural healthcare professionals to meet the diverse needs of Louisiana residents must be a priority.”

“The Short White Coats program is designed for underrepresented students of all ages — from those enrolled in Head Start programs through high school,” said Dr. Sundée Winder, executive director of the LDH Office of Public Health’s Bureau of Community Preparedness and principal investigator for the grant that funds the Rainbow of Short White Coats initiative. “We are excited to partner with AHEC to attract children to careers in healthcare, allowing them to serve the unique needs of their communities.”

Twenty schools statewide will participate in the program, implementing age-level projects and recognition programs to attract more underrepresented students to the healthcare field. CCANO and other participating schools will engage students through use of a project-based initiative developed by LDH and AHEC.

“Our hope is to inspire the next generation of Louisiana’s students, our future health heroes, to pursue careers in healthcare,” said AHEC President Brian Jakes. “Across the state, our organizations have worked for over 30 years to promote careers in healthcare to middle and high school students. This is a continuation of that commitment.”