The Augusta University College of Nursing was recently awarded $350,000 from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for the college’s Advanced Education Nursing Traineeship (AENT) Program – a traineeship project that seeks to increase the number of primary care Advanced Practice Register Nurses (APRNs) in rural and/or underserved communities throughout Georgia.
Currently, 76 percent of 159 counties in Georgia are considered “rural” counties. Of those, 89 percent are deemed “medically underserved” with 86 percent designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs), meaning areas in which residents have little-to-no access to primary care physicians or trained APRNs. Georgia HSPAs include Decatur, McDuffie and even Richmond counties.
Dr. Pamela Cook, assistant dean for student affairs, said the College of Nursing plans to use the award money to encourage students to attend the university full-time to improve access to health care in HSPAs as quickly as possible. “There is a lot of need around the state for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, specifically nurse practitioners (NPs), to fill health care needs,” Cook said. “This grant is to help motivate NP students to attend full-time so that our students will graduate and be able to contribute to the workforce that much sooner.”
Recruitment for the traineeship project will be focused on students originally from an HSPA or medically underserved location who are looking to go back into their community with much-needed experience.
“Applicants who are applying will understand that the purpose [of the grant] is to serve communities and provide experience with medically underserved and rural populations in the hopes that they will eventually go and work in those areas of need,” Cook said.
Cook said that the grant, which primarily serves to strengthen the college’s commitment to improving access to health care in Georgia, also fulfills some of the passions that brought her into the nursing field.
“I love working with our students, and I see that our graduate students are already in debt when they return to school because of having to pay for their undergraduate degrees, either in part or in full,” she said. “One of my passions is to help students financially attain their advanced degree so that they can contribute to nursing.”
In addition to helping students attain their degrees, the grant will also be used to help improve diversity in the nursing field. “Roughly 50 percent of the populations we are working with in Richmond County are from minority backgrounds,” Cook said. “We need nurses who can understand, design and provide care to those various populations.”
But beyond her drive for helping students succeed and improving diversity in the field, Cook said the grant speaks to another of her passions – and her personal experience. “I grew up in a rural area,” she said. “We had a low number of physicians, and at the time, we did not have nurse practitioners. I know how important it is for a low-income community to have practitioners available in their community because I saw firsthand the value of having those providers in my community.”