Last summer, a cardiology nurse practitioner in Philadelphia watched images on his television screen of impassioned protestors attending peaceful demonstrations across the country. He sought desperately to walk beside them in the fight against systemic racism.
Doing so would have required him to gather in large numbers amid the coronavirus pandemic, so the healthcare worker reconsidered.
Committed to making change, creating workplace diversity, and improving accessibility to education, the La Salle University graduate has established a scholarship at his alma mater to financially support a nursing student of color and address the lack of diversity in the nursing profession.
A gift from the 2006 graduate spurred the creation of the Gaye Riddick-Burden Scholarship for Undergraduate Nursing. Beginning in Fall 2021, La Salle will award a $2,000 scholarship to a second-year undergraduate nursing student of color at the University’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences. The scholarship will follow the student through the remainder of their undergraduate education at La Salle. The benefactor, who has requested anonymity, plans to fund the scholarship for at a minimum of three years.
The nursing profession, traditionally, has suffered from a lack of workforce diversity. Nurses from minority backgrounds comprised only 19.2 percent of the registered nurse workforce, according to 2017 survey data from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and The Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers. The same survey found men accounted for only 9.1 percent of the registered nurse workforce.
“As a professional in this field for many years, I am keenly aware of the lack of diversity in nursing and wanted to play a small part in helping to support a student get through La Salle’s rigorous program and graduate into a career in this rewarding field,” said the benefactor. “It’s my hope that this investment may be used to engage other La Salle alumni to support this scholarship, as well as others—and the university, as a whole.”
The scholarship is named for Gaye Riddick-Burden, ’99, MSN ’01, a certified registered nurse practitioner at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing from La Salle. The anonymous benefactor said he enlisted the help of La Salle University’s Office of Advancement in identifying “a well-regarded and successful graduate of color from La Salle’s nursing program” for whom the scholarship should be named.
“As a professional in this field for many years, I am keenly aware of the lack of diversity in nursing and wanted to play a small part in helping to support a student get through La Salle’s rigorous program and graduate into a career in this rewarding field,” Gaye Riddick-Burden Scholarship benefactor.
“It was my desire for the scholarship to reflect the success of an African-American nursing graduate who exemplifies the historic mission of La Salle University and the values of the profession in their work,” the scholarship benefactor said. “I’ve had an opportunity to speak with Gaye and get to know her, her character, and what she stands for. She is the perfect namesake for this scholarship.”
Riddick-Burden, in her field, specializes in the treatment of patients with sickle cell disease, which disproportionately affects people of African descent and other ethnic groups. Riddick-Burden calls it “my passion,” something to which she has “dedicated my entire career.” Her time at La Salle, she said, inspired her to find ways to give back to her community and field. In particular, she guest-lectured at La Salle and found opportunities to mentor and precept La Salle nursing students in her sickle cell unit in which she worked.
“The support I received at La Salle, from faculty and staff who cared deeply about my development, was nothing short of tremendous,” Riddick-Burden said. “I am flattered and humbled that this scholarship is named for me. It’s an acknowledgment of my work, certainly. It’s also a blessing for a La Salle nursing student of color to receive this financial support and help on their path toward a life-changing degree and impactful career.”
La Salle’s Vice President of Mission, Diversity, and Inclusion Br. Ernest J. Miller, FSC, D. Min., M.A. ’95 noted the new scholarship’s alignment with the University’s mission. “The Gaye Riddick-Burden Scholarship for Undergraduate Nursing aligns with La Salle’s continued commitment to access and affordability as a crucial dimension of its mission and core values,” he said. “Further, this gift reflects ongoing attention toward building a culturally diverse workforce in the nursing profession that mirrors the nation’s changing demographics.”
—Christopher A. Vito