Nataysha Addison always knew she wanted to be in healthcare. At first, she thought she wanted to be a doctor. “But I saw the nurses, how much more time they spent with patients,” she said. “I love to hear people’s stories and help them with what I know. I also love how much patients can teach us about ourselves.”

Addison, 38, who just became a Novant Health registered nurse (RN) with the support of the Upward Mobility RN Educational Assistance Fund, has learned she can reach her goals, no matter what it takes. As a single mother, she wants her four kids to have that perspective, too.

“I just hope that they see that no matter what your circumstances are or how hard life seems, you can do it,” she said. “A lot of people don’t make it out of the neighborhood I grew up in. I want them to know it’s about more than your household, your culture, where you live.”

Addison was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She went to High School For Health Professions & Human Services and was working as a medical assistant at 18. “My path was a bit different,” she said. “I was a mother already by then, and I knew I didn’t want to stay in the neighborhood I grew up in.”

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She saw generations of families caught in cycles of hardship and was determined to create a better life. She put in the work as a medical assistant for eight years before becoming a licensed professional nurse (LPN). She expanded her family. When her oldest son was a teenager, Addison was ready to leave New York. “I was working long hours, and worrying about my kids all the time was hard,” Addison said.

She moved her kids to Charlotte on a whim in 2014 and started working as an LPN with Novant Health’s surgery navigation program, which centers on pre-operative calls to patients to provide instructions and answer questions before surgery. She settled into life there and built a circle of friends and coworkers. “I think I’m more of a Southern girl than a city girl,” she said. “Charlotte has everything we need.”

That includes growth opportunities, and Addison felt that pull in 2020. She was ready to take her career to the next level and become a registered nurse. “Becoming a registered nurse opens up so many other avenues,” she said. “I really missed bedside positions and working with patients. I really love working at Novant Health, so in order to advance, I needed to go back to school. My older children were old enough, so I was like, let’s just do it.”

She enrolled in a full-time, two-year program at Central Piedmont Community College with financial aid and maintained part-time remote work as an LPN. During her second semester, she found out about Novant Health’s Upward Mobility RN Educational Assistance Fund. She applied and got accepted to be on scholarship for her final year of the program.

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Through the program, Novant Health provides up-front coverage of tuition and fees for the accredited nursing program, the flexibility of working a reduced schedule without reduction in pay and benefits, and access to mentorship and career coaching.

“The scholarship definitely made a difference by covering tuition and other expenses,” Addison said. “That included textbooks, uniforms, testing fees, a laptop – all the things I needed to be successful.”

Even with financial support, she said, “It was definitely a struggle. I’m a single mom, my family is all back in New York except for my younger sister, and daycares don’t open early enough. COVID happened, so we juggled virtual learning and remote work. But I had a village of friends, an amazing and flexible manager, and I planned each semester out. I reminded myself: This is only temporary, and there’s a bigger picture.”

Nurse manager Brooke Cathey manages about 50 remote nurses across Novant Health’s system and has pursued continuing education on top of her day job as well, so she understands the importance – and payoffs – of being flexible. Reconfiguring Addison’s work schedule was no exception.

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Nataysha Addison outside of Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.

“Nataysha is an incredible nurse. She’s very detail-oriented, and she will speak up if things need to change, so I was super excited when she told us she was going back to school,” Cathey said. “I love when our teammates are leaving for new positions but are staying with Novant Health. Nataysha is going to be an awesome RN. Seeing her finish and get to that goal is incredible to watch.”

After covering different specialties from rehabilitation to cardiology during clinical rotations and receiving career coaching, Addison chose oncology for her residency. She has passed her boards and just started her full-time residency at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. And her hard work continues.

“I worked as much as I could as an LPN until then to catch up and give myself some financial cushion,” she said. “I also prepared myself for 12-hour shifts and made plans for childcare.”

But she’s accustomed to hard work. And she knows exactly what her goal is.

“Healthcare can feel scary when you come in as a patient, but your healthcare staff can make that easier,” she said. “So if I can make what they’re going through easier, that’s my goal in life – to help out where I can and to teach what I can.”

The upward mobility RN educational assistance fund

The Upward Mobility RN Educational Assistance Fund — an initiative sponsored by Novant Health and Atrium Health as part of their ONE Charlotte Health Alliance — was launched in 2018. Since then, the award has supported 46 scholars in achieving their dreams to advance from certified nursing assistants (CNAs) to registered nurses (RNs).

While promoting professional development and financial well-being among team members living below the poverty level — who often struggle to afford an education and to support themselves and their families while attending school — the program also addresses the ongoing, nation-wide nursing shortage.

“This program opens up so many opportunities — literally changing the trajectory of people’s lives, by helping them move from just making a living wage to doubling or tripling their income,” said Erika Robinson, people and culture specialist for Novant Health’s Pipeline and Recruitment Programs. “And in this way, we are also changing their children's lives and generations to come.”

The Upward Mobility award provides up to two years of tuition and fees for an approved nursing program leading to licensure as a registered nurse. Several other components have also been added, including:

  • Career coaching
  • Professional development seminars
  • Mentorship
  • Financial literacy classes
  • Reduced work schedules with health benefits

“These components truly make an impact and separate Upward Mobility from many other programs,” Robinson said. “It would be easy to just offer funding, but beyond the short-term financial benefits, people also need tools to help them achieve lasting professional and personal success. I love that Novant Health actually put this plan into action and put resources behind it to make sure these team members are successful.”

The Upward Mobility is one of many initiatives by Novant Health to address the ongoing nursing shortage that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Other efforts include working with three government agencies to help source registered nurses from various countries, and the expansion of Preceptorship Enhancement Program to help transition nurses from school into residency programs.