When Lauren Allen’s father unexpectedly passed away a month ago from a heart attack, the registered nurse couldn’t help but wonder if things would have turned out differently if he’d lived in a big city. In the rural mountains, he was far away from a major heart center.
Allen is among 44 students in UNCG’s Post-BSN Adult/Gerontological Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Doctor of Nursing Practice (AGNP DNP) program that prepares health care professionals to help rural residents gain access to medical care, thanks to a $699,700 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
“We need more providers, in more places, so that people have the opportunity to access affordable, quality care,” Allen said.
North Carolina, a state where 80 out of 100 counties are rural, has a substantial number of medically underserved populations, noted Dr. Laurie Kennedy-Malone, professor of nursing and project coordinator/principal investigator of the “Advancing Nursing Education Workforce: Academic Practice Partnerships Today for Competent Practitioners Tomorrow” grant.
Dr. Karen Amirehsani, preceptor coordinator, and Dr. Kristin Curcio, AGNP DNP project coordinator, are actively working with Kennedy-Malone to fulfill the project objectives: improving access to quality health care and enhancing the AGNP DNP program curriculum.
North Carolina has eight universities that offer nationally accredited graduate nurse practitioner programs, but only three – including UNCG – prepare NPs to specialize in adult gerontology primary care.
The project has designated three academic-practice partnerships: Novant Health systems, Davidson Medical Ministries Clinic and Cone Health Community Health & Wellness Center.
“A big piece of this grant is that it provides students traineeship money with additional stipends,” Kennedy-Malone said. “Given the financial support, students will spend more time immersed in their clinical practice areas.”
Additionally, she added, the grant will provide educational opportunities for “preceptors” – clinicians who train and mentor NP students in a clinical setting. Training is provided for current mentors as well as graduating students.
Austin Beshears, a grant fund recipient, plans to use the clinical training to better serve the rural community where he grew up, in Elkin, North Carolina. Specialists in rural areas are hard to come by, he said, and patients often face a commute of up to an hour.
“Doctoral-prepared nurse practitioners are on the cutting edge of research and evidence-based practice,” said Beshears, who works as a registered nurse at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “I want to take what I’ve learned in the big city and apply it.”
Tyesha Harvey, an RN from Lancaster, Virginia, works at Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital while tackling a full course load. Rather than digging into her savings, funding from the grant helps to cover unmet costs.
“It’s been a sigh of relief, for all of us, I think,” Allen said. “The grant money helped me to take a step away from work to focus on my education at this pivotal point in the program.”
Allen believes firmly that with better access to quality care, outcomes will improve, and the project’s scope will be far-reaching in impact.
“Having more nurse practitioners available in rural areas changes the culture of health.”
Story by Elizabeth L. Harrison, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications