$1.2 million UNMC grant enlists community help to prepare more nurse practitioner students for rural practice

The University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing has received a two-year, $1.2 million grant to boost the number of family nurse practitioners and psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners practicing in rural and underserved areas. A major part of the grant will involve community partners who will mentor, nurture and inspire students while they get clinical experience in a rural community.

The grant is funded by the Health Resources & Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The college plans to recruit UNMC students for up to 36 slots in the master’s degree program. The program requires 48 credit hours of academic work and a minimum of 500 hours of clinical training. One of the criteria is students need to have an interest in working in rural or underserved areas of Nebraska. A major part of the grant will go towards supporting students with tuition, fees, books, a stipend, and other expenses.

The deadline for spring semester applications is Nov. 1.

Lynne Buchanan, Ph.D., associate professor at the UNMC College of Nursing and director and principal investigator of the grant, said the program will provide the UNMC students a more immersive experience than most rural clinical experiences – two semesters with an option to re-apply for two more semesters.

The college is partnering with Nebraska Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) in areas with shortages of health care providers -- Scottsbluff, Kearney, Grand Island, Hastings and Norfolk.

“AHECs, clinical preceptors and community partners will help students feel connected to the community,” said Dr. Buchanan, who also is director of UNMC master’s degree programs. “We want the students to feel part of the community and consider practicing in rural areas after graduation. It’s critical to link with clinical and community partners to make the program successful.”

Kelsey Miller, Nebraska Panhandle AHEC executive director, said since 2004, the Nebraska Panhandle Area Health Education Center has worked diligently to develop, enhance, and maintain regional health opportunities in the 14 rural and underserved communities in the western Nebraska region.

“Within our 14-county service area, 13 counties are designated as frontier, and 13 as health profession shortage areas,” Miller said. “The project will benefit the region by increasing the distribution of primary care nurse practitioners through innovative academic and clinical training in these rural and underserved settings.”

Each AHEC will form advisory boards which will be a support network for students, including providing activities and educational opportunities.

Preceptors are health providers practicing throughout the state — volunteers who mentor and provide students with practical experiences in a health care setting.

“Rural residents do not always have access to care or must travel long distance at great expense. This is tragic because they are many times very ill,” said Dr. Buchanan, a board-certified adult nurse practitioner. “Mental health services are known to be even more sparse. When there’s a crisis, there needs to be a provider who’s close who can intervene appropriately to prevent a tragic outcome.”

Nurse practitioners – also known as advanced practice registered nurses – have master's or doctoral degrees in nursing with advanced clinical experience. They diagnose and treat patients and manage chronic illnesses as well as prescribe medication.

Juliann Sebastian, Ph.D., dean of the UNMC College of Nursing, said the grant is an important opportunity to strengthen the college’s partnership with preceptors in rural areas and use technology to support their work with nurse practitioner students. “The grant will help students learn how to use telehealth to expand the reach of clinical services throughout Nebraska. We are delighted to be able to advance nurse practitioner education in this way and ultimately increase access to care,” she said.

Applicant criteria includes:

For more information, contact lbuchanan@unmc.edu or Rolee Kelly at rolee.kelly@unmc.edu or (402) 559-4120.