Health care grant opens doors for more nursing students

Nursing student examining young girl

As state and federal governments continue to look for ways to fill the need for trained health care professionals, NAU is preparing to welcome more nursing students through a multimillion dollar grant for hands-on training.

Northern Arizona University will partner with Scottsdale Healthcare on a Graduate Nurse Education Demonstration program, recently chosen as one of five participating hospitals nationwide for a four-year, $200 million initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The funding will support Advanced Practice Nursing clinical training for more than 400 nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists in Arizona.

Higher education institutions are playing a key role in addressing the shortage of health care professionals, a gap that is expected to widen as the Affordable Care Act is implemented and opens medical care to more Americans.

Arizona already has significantly fewer physicians, residents and advanced practice nurses per capita than the national average, with an estimated shortfall of 2,500 health care providers statewide. More than 40 percent of the current Advanced Practice Nursing professionals in Arizona are 55 years or older, signaling an impending drop in trained health care workers as they near retirement in the next several years.

At the same time, nursing schools are struggling to hire trained faculty who can prepare the next generation of nurses to enter the workforce. And the American Association of Colleges of Nursing estimates more than 75,000 students were turned away from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs nationwide in 2011.

“What this grant allows us to do is fund additional clinical faculty that will help students with preceptors and evaluation,” said Debbie Nogueras, associate professor in NAU’s School of Nursing. “Essentially, we can increase our enrollment by half.”

The Scottsdale Healthcare partnership and the federal grant are aimed at addressing both the shortage of faculty and available clinical training opportunities for nursing students. It will lead to more hands-on training slots for graduate students on the family nurse practitioner track and doctoral students of nursing practice at NAU, which require Advanced Practice Nursing clinical training.

The cost of clinical training often limits the ability of hospitals and other health care providers to accept more students, in turn restricting the number of students nursing programs can admit per year.

Nogueras, who also serves as the coordinator for the doctor of nursing practice and family nurse practitioner programs, said NAU is allocated nearly $1 million through the grant, which will place more students and faculty in rural health care settings throughout the state. Prior to the grant, NAU could admit 25 students to the nursing program per year. With the additional funding, 142 students are expected to finish clinicals through the program in the next four years.

NAU is one of four educational institutions that will work with Scottsdale Healthcare to address the shortfall in primary care practitioners in Arizona. The partnership also includes Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, Grand Canyon University and community-based care organizations representing more than 30 health care settings across the state.

For information, contact and reference the Arizona collaboration.