WCU, Mission Health using $1.3 million grant to enhance FNP training

A new grant-funded program involving WCU and Mission Health System will support initiatives designed to increase the number of nurse practitioners prepared to provide primary care in rural areas and work with medically underserved populations.

A long-running partnership between Western Carolina University and Mission Health System to improve the quality of health care in Western North Carolina reached a milestone recently when the federal government awarded a $1.3 million grant to boost the readiness of students graduating from WCU’s Family Nurse Practitioner Program.

The grant to WCU’s School of Nursing will be spread over two years and enable WCU and Mission Health to work together to provide enhanced clinical and classroom training for the program’s students and continuing education opportunities for working family nurse practitioners who will act as the students’ teachers and mentors in clinical settings. The Advanced Nursing Education Workforce Grant was awarded to WCU by the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

WCU and Mission Health are using the funding to initiate a program titled “Partnership for Longitudinal Academic/Clinical Education Strategy.” It will support initiatives designed to increase the number of nurse practitioners prepared to provide primary care in rural areas and work with medically underserved populations, said Tamera Pearson, who led the effort to obtain the grant as director of the Family Nurse Practitioner Program in the School of Nursing.

Family nurse practitioners are high-quality, cost-effective primary care providers who promote health and holistically treat patients of all ages, diagnosing and treating common acute and chronic health problems. WCU’s program prepares nurses for that advanced practice role.

Most of WNC is designated by the federal government as a “health professional shortage area” or “medically underserved” community or area, or all three. WCU’s FNP program is designed to help meet the need for improved access to primary care in those communities and areas, but to achieve that goal, students need significant training experiences in rural clinical sites, Pearson said.

“The PLACES Program will offer our family nurse practitioner students a rich clinical experience with knowledgeable providers in small communities in the mountains and foothills of North Carolina,” she said. “The program also will enhance current curricular content as part of this effort to improve student readiness.”

Students in the program will receive more classroom training focusing on the special health care needs of patients in rural and medically underserved areas. “One of the exciting curriculum expansions will include tele-health and simulation activities designed to prepare students for clinical practice in rural areas using the latest in technology,” Pearson said.

The “longitudinal” in the new program’s name reflects a goal to provide multisemester clinical placements for the students in the same primary care office or clinic, said Vallire Hooper, manager of nursing research for Mission Health, who worked with Pearson in seeking the grant. “Our thought is that if we can place students at the same site, and ideally with the same teacher-mentor, for multiple semesters, they will be better prepared to move into independent practice upon graduation,” Hooper said.

FNP students in the program also will benefit from scholarships awarded through the federal funding. Those scholarships will be available starting with the spring semester of 2018, she said.

“Mission Health is committed to engaging in collaborative projects that improve the health and well-being of the residents of Western North Carolina,” said Kathleen Culhane Guyette, senior vice president of patient care services and president of regional member hospitals for Mission Health. “We are excited to join in this new effort with WCU and are looking forward to seeing it pay off with improved health care delivery in the region’s more rural areas.”

Students enrolled in WCU’s Family Nurse Practitioner Program attend classes at the university’s Biltmore Park instructional site and take other courses online. For more information about the program, visit the website fnp.wcu.edu or call 828-227-7467.