CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A hospital system's scholarship is bringing more nurses on board during a time the country experiences a nursing shortage.

Novant Health’s Upward Mobility RN Scholarship supports hospital employees facing financial barriers to go to nursing school. The program started in 2018 pays for up to two years of tuition and fees for an accredited nursing program in North Carolina. The recipients also receive mentorship and career coaching.

Novant Health’s Vice President of New Business Growth and Transformation Raki McGregor says their nursing department is growing from within thanks to this initiative.

“The ability for us to really live our mantra of looking at our team members first and affording them an opportunity to advance their careers is a huge part of the benefit of this as well,” McGregor said.

The program is also helping with the nursing shortage, which the North Carolina Nurse’s Association states is a challenge North Carolina is facing. Marci Caceres who started working at Novant Health as a medical assistant in 2016 benefited from the scholarship.

Caceres who was born in Guatemala moved to the U.S. with her family as a child.

“You just remember that [your parents] just came here to give you a better life so it just sticks with you,” Caceres said.

She had always dreamt of becoming a nurse, but didn’t think it was possible because of her legal status.

“I flew here and stayed here, my visa expired,” Caceres said.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program benefiting undocumented youth made her goal of going to college possible. It shields her from deportation and gives her a work permit.

With DACA, she pursued an associate degree in health sciences.

“I had to work full time. I had to go school full time and I had to pay out-of-state tuition,” Caceres said.

Her legal status prevented her from getting federal financial aid and two scholarships but she didn’t give up.

“My parents didn’t bring me to a whole another country to let their sacrifices go in vain,” Caceres said.

In 2019, she received the Upward Mobility RN Scholarship program from Novant Health, making it easier for her to go to nursing school at Central Piedmont Community College. She says it would have been a financial hardship to attend college without the support.

“It was a big blessing from God and I’m very grateful for that because it has opened a lot of opportunities and it helped me out so much,” Caceres said.

The 26-year-old graduated this spring and is already working as a nurse at Heart & Vascular Institute at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte.

"Being able to live out your dream, being able to work at it and just come here every day and just continue to learn feels like an ongoing blessing because at some point this wasn't going to happen,” Caceres said.

In mid-August was the first time Caceres cared for COVID-19 patients.

“You’re caring for someone in their time of need,” Caceres said. “I feel it’s a very rewarding job.”

She’s also grateful to be able to care for Spanish-speaking patients with limited English proficiency in their native language.

“I want to give back to my Hispanic community,” Caceres said.

Caceres hopes to become a nurse practitioner in the future. The Upward Mobility RN Scholarship is one of Novant’s Diversity initiatives.

Diversity MBA Media, a national organization integrating diversity and inclusion with talent management, ranked Novant Health first as the best place to work for women and diverse managers.

Executive Vice President and chief diversity, inclusion and equity officer Tonya Blackmon says it’s nice to be recognized but the most important thing is to create an inclusive environment.

“I think that is so powerful that we will reflect the communities that we serve so that when people come into our organization, whether they're team members or whether they're patients, they feel like they belong, they feel like that they're valued,” Blackmon said.

More than a dozen employees at Novant Health have benefited from the program.