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Nursing matters

College of Nursing grant will increase family nurse practitioner workforce in rural, underserved areas

environmental portrait of Kayla Lee

The closest doctor’s office is at least a 30-minute drive for many South Carolinians. Kayla Lee, a graduate student studying to be a family nurse practitioner, has seen firsthand the effect lack of access to quality health care can have on a community.

“A close friend passed away, and she would regularly come to me to talk about what was going on with her medical care. She didn’t have a lot of options for second opinions, and she passed away too soon,” says Lee, who grew up in Summerville and now lives in Ridgeville.

A grant received by the College of Nursing in 2019 will help rural communities receive the care Lee’s friend did not.

"I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do with my degree. Through clinicals and learning in class, I’ve kind of discovered what I’m passionate about."

Kayla Lee

The college was awarded a $2.4 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration. The Advanced Nursing Education Workforce Grant will increase the number of students trained to be family nurse practitioners in rural and underserved areas in South Carolina. The four-year grant is also intended to increase the diversity of the FNP student population and workforce in the state.

Students in the program have immersive clinical rotations in community-based settings in rural and underserved populations of the state. Students also learn specialized skills and get practice-based instruction focusing on the social determinants of health, telehealth delivery and value-based care measures created in partnership with Cooperative Heath that is then applied to a clinical setting.

“I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do with my degree,” Lee says. “Through clinicals and learning in class, I’ve kind of discovered what I’m passionate about.”

There are 45 master’s students and 15 doctoral candidates in the program. Students pursuing a master’s will receive a one-time stipend of $11,000, and doctoral candidates will receive a one-time stipend of $22,000.

South Carolina ranks fourth in the nation for most severe nurse shortages, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Almost every county in the state is considered rural or medically underserved. Some counties don’t have critical access hospitals. There might be one health care provider in the entire county to serve the county’s population.

“We want to make sure that we can serve our constituents more effectively,” says Alicia Ribar, associate dean for academic affairs for the College of Nursing. “Part of our mission at the college is that we not only are educating undergraduate nurses but also graduate-level health care providers that can serve the health care needs of our state’s population.”