Nearly $1 Million Nursing Department Grants Benefit Students and Region’s Rural Health Care

May 16, 2013

The University of Scranton’s graduate nursing program was awarded three federal grants totaling nearly $1 million for the 2012-2013 academic year from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (US DHHS) and the Bureau of Health Professions.

The University was awarded a $432,000 program grant by the US DHHS for the development of interprofessional, team-based learning opportunities for family nurse practitioner, physical therapy, occupational therapy and counseling students.

In addition to the program grant, an advanced nursing education traineeship grant totaling $548,000 provided tuition support to family nurse practitioner students. This past year family nurse practitioner students each received $7,700 toward their tuition. Also, a nurse anesthetist traineeship grant for $14,000 was awarded to the University’s nurse anesthesia program, which was divided among the nurse anesthesia students. The grants are designed to help Scranton graduates improve the quality of rural health care, particularly in northeast Pennsylvania, which was ranked in the bottom fourth of the state in overall health and life expectancy.

 “Everyone in the class was very pleasantly surprised by it,” said Jacque Thomas, a graduate student in the family nurse practitioner program from Hazle Township. “With everything being a big push toward total health, I think it’s a big incentive for all of us, as we’re graduating, to stay in the area as opposed to going back to more urban areas for our nurse practitioner careers.”

Thomas said balancing the financial and educational demands can be difficult in the graduate nursing programs with students either continuing to work or taking out loans. These traineeship grants however allow students to focus on their studies.

According to Mary Jane Hanson, Ph.D., professor and director of the Department of Nursing’s graduate program, the focus on interprofessional education will help address the state’s growing rural health care concerns. With about 27 percent of the state’s residents living in rural areas and primary health care options in those regions being limited, Dr. Hanson believes team-based approaches offer patients the best care.

“It has been shown that care has improved when there is good communication and collaboration among all health professionals,” Dr. Hanson said. “So what we’re trying to do with the program grant is make some curricular changes to support the development of a more team-based approach to health care by graduates of our family nurse practitioner program, but also our physical therapy, occupational therapy and counseling programs.”

According to Dr. Hanson, the new educational approaches could involve team-based seminars where students from different disciplines work through case studies to determine the best plan of care for the patient using each person’s expertise.

“Historically, we’ve become experts in our own areas, and I think there’s sometimes a lack of knowledge of what other disciplines do,” Dr. Hanson said. “If we improve communication and knowledge about what the other disciplines do, I think we can more effectively support the patient by having increased knowledge of what services other disciplines can provide.”

Thomas said interprofessional approaches offer a depth necessary to properly treat patients.

“Having a physical therapist and an occupational therapist and a dietician, even in consultation of a physician, is absolutely the best way to take care of a patient,” Thomas said. “Each discipline brings so much more and a different perspective on how the patient should be treated and the best management to get them back to their optimum level of health.”

In addition to more interprofessional curricula, Scranton will use this grant money to explore telehealth options, which will allow rural patients to benefit from the expertise of providers all over the world – whether it’s the primary care provider remotely treating patients or teams of providers from different disciplines using video equipment to discuss various approaches to treatment.

Dr. Hanson said the use of telehealth has many options.

“The telehealth communication could be among the health care providers or the patient and the provider. It could be a nurse practitioner talking to a patient about the home monitoring of their weight, their blood pressure or their blood sugar. It could be a physical therapist talking about the home monitoring of an exercise program,” Dr. Hanson said.

Since 2000, the University’s Department of Nursing has received more than $2.5 million from competitive federal grant programs through the US DHHS.

Dr. Hanson is the project director for two grants, and Caroline Raskiewicz DNP, director of the nurse anesthesia program, is the project director for the nurse anesthesia traineeship grant. 

The program grant entitled “Promoting an Interdisciplinary Approach to Caring for Underserved Rural Populations” was written by Dr. Hanson and Patricia Wright, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing. Collaborators on the interdisciplinary project are Barbara Wagner, DPT, faculty specialist physical therapy; Marlene Morgan, Ed.D, assistant professor occupational therapy; Joann Nicoteri, Ph.D., family nurse practitioner for student health services; Gerianne Barber, director of the counseling training center; and Andrea Mantione, director of the Leahy Community Health and Family Center.

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