Listed as one of the top states facing the most severe physician shortage, Georgia has also consistently been listed in the bottom third for overall health, most recently ranked 40th in 2015 by United Health Foundation.
Georgia College’s School of Nursing is working to address both of those factors through the education of advanced nurse practitioners while also encouraging students to work in rural underserved areas.
For that dedication, the school received a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration (HRSA) Advanced Education Nursing Traineeship (AENT) grant. Totaling nearly $350,000, the grant funds the tuition, fees, books, other expenses and gives a stipend for all the students in the Master of Nursing in Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program
“We were thrilled when we found out we had received this grant,” said Dr. Sallie Coke, director of graduate nursing programs. “With the major shortage in health care providers, I decided to apply for this grant to do something that would both help the students and help the state.”
Students who choose to receive the funds must fulfill a two-year obligation to serve in a high-needs or rural health district in the state of Georgia. More than 130 of the 159 counties in state are classified as either rural, high-needs or both.
“This grant covers all of the 2017 graduating class (34 students), not just a handful, and it gives them money for living expenses to help them offset some of the costs to their families so that they are able to afford to come back to school,” said Coke.
For student Caitlin Royster Strickland, the question of working in a rural or high-needs area was easy to answer.
“I live in the Athens, Georgia, area and plan to stay there for work after I finish my degree,” she said. “Now with this grant, not having to take out more student loans will allow us to use our education to give back and help improve the health of the underserved in our communities, rather than just seeking the highest paying jobs after graduation.”
The financial assistance could not have come a better time.
“My husband is going back to get his Ph.D. starting this fall, so we were struggling with how to make ends meet between August and May of next year when I graduate. That’s when I found out we received the grant and my tuition was covered,” said Strickland, who currently works at the Oconee Heart and Vascular Center. “I was amazed when I found out. I don’t know of any other program that would work to get the students this help, so I was both surprised and grateful.”
This award marks the second time the program has received similar funding, but only time it’s covered an entire cohort.
“The faculty in this program are always advocating for the students,” said Laura Frawley, FNP student who works at Houston Medical Center in Warner Robins. “As we’ve all progressed through the program, we’ve had to cut back on our working hours, so this grant makes a substantial impact on our ability to afford school. Now we won’t have to rely on loans to pay for our degree.”
The purpose of the AENT Program is to increase the number of advanced education nurses trained to practice as primary care providers and/or nursing faculty to address the nurse faculty shortage that inhibits nursing schools from educating the number of nurses needed to meet demand. This purpose is met by providing grant funding for traineeships that will pay all or part of the costs of the tuition, books, and fees of the program of advanced nurse education and the reasonable living expenses of the individual during the period for which the traineeship is provided. More information can be found at http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/nursing/grants/aent.html.