The news: In August, City Colleges of Chicago announced it is closing two nursing programs because of an accreditation problem and phasing students into the remaining four school campuses.

Behind the news: African Americans and Latinos are underrepresented among 86,300 registered nurses working in Chicago, according to a Chicago Reporter analysis of 2008 census data. African Americans made up only 24 percent of Chicago nurses while they are one-third of the Chicago working population. Latinos are 27 percent of the working population but only
7 percent of nurses.

Loraine Moreno, president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses’ Illinois chapter, said the numbers were lower than she expected.

As a registered nurse and senior director of clinical affairs at the Chicago Family Health Center, Moreno said black and Latino nurses are needed in underserved Chicago communities where, like at her South Side health center, a majority of patients are people of color.

Moreno said nurses who reflect the communities they serve make patients feel comfortable and confident when seeking treatment. “When they are getting information about health care, and self-management, they are understanding it and are taking it more seriously,” she said.

In particular, Moreno said, Latino nurses can overcome language barriers. “We do need the bilingual nurse to directly communicate with the patient instead of having to bring in interpreters,” she said.

There are 1,122 students currently enrolled in the City Colleges’ nursing program. More than 70 percent of City Colleges’ students are black and Latino.

Moreno said mentorship is important to encourage underrepresented men and women to continue school despite economic and social barriers. “We know they may be the first in their families going through college, so they are not familiar with opportunities to get grants or get loans,” she said.