A grant program that offers stipends to nursing school graduate students who commit to work in Central Louisiana two years after receiving their master’s degrees has increased the number of nurse practitioners in the region, giving residents better access to primary care services that are sometimes hard to find in rural areas.
The Nurse Practitioner Program is a partnership between The Rapides Foundation and Northwestern State University’s College of Nursing and Allied Health. It is designed to increase people’s access to quality primary healthcare by expanding the healthcare workforce.
“The healthcare shortage coupled with an aging population is a nationwide problem, and is especially evident in rural areas. Our partnership with NSU is increasing the number of nurse practitioners who are qualified to provide primary care services in facilities throughout Central Louisiana,” said Joe Rosier, President and CEO of The Rapides Foundation.
The grant program is for graduate students in NSU’s Master of Science in Nursing program who are pursuing primary care nurse practitioner concentrations in family, women’s health or pediatrics. Students receive a stipend of $750 per semester in the final five semesters of their studies. In accepting the stipend agreement, students agree to work two years in Central Louisiana after they graduate and become certified as nurse practitioners.
An essential part of the project was hiring two full-time nurse practitioner faculty members, Robyn Ray and Diana Corley, to work in Alexandria instead of the Shreveport offices where the NSU College of Nursing is based.
Since the program began in 2012, 24 nurses have earned their master’s degrees and are currently working throughout Central Louisiana as nurse practitioners. The Rapides Foundation recently extended the program to allow one more cohort of six graduate students. This will bring the number of new, qualified nurse practitioners who graduated under the grant to 30.
“Having the students sign an agreement saying they would take the stipend money really caused them to pause and think about it. And it really worked. Once they signed the agreement, they were committed to stay. I think if they stay somewhere and establish themselves for a couple of years in the area as a provider, they are more likely to stay long term,” said Dr. Dana Clawson, Dean of NSU’s College of Nursing and Allied Health.
Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner Clint Cooksey graduated from the program in 2015 and now works full-time at the LaSalle Family Medicine Clinic in his hometown of Jena. Cooksey said the stipend took the financial pressure off and allowed him to focus on his graduate school studies. “That stipend helped me a lot because I would have had to pinch pennies and probably had more student loans,” he said. “It definitely helped lower the stress level, which is high enough as it is.”
Moving forward, the Foundation will address the region’s shortage of healthcare professionals through its new Healthcare Occupations Program, which is designed to attract and retain more high-quality healthcare employees in Central Louisiana. The Foundation will partner with invited post secondary institutions to support their projects that aim to increase the number of graduates from healthcare programs. Healthcare occupations that will be targeted include: Associate Providers (Physician Assistants or Nurse Practitioners); Registered Nurses; Licensed Practical Nurses; Certified Nursing Assistants; and Licensed Clinical Social Workers.
Diana Corley (left) and Robyn Ray, who are both Assistant Professors of Nursing.