Multi-million dollar grant will address nurse educator shortage

Nursing students at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College practice taking blood pressure at...
Nursing students at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College practice taking blood pressure at the Bryant Center on their Tradition campus.(John Fitzhugh)
Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 1:16 PM CDT
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(Editor’s note: This story was originally published April 19, 2021 at 9:53 PM CDT - Updated April 20 at 8:18 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) (Great Health Divide) - Mississippi has a nursing shortage and the pandemic is making it worse. But there’s an even deeper rooted problem that needs repair: the nurse educator shortage.

The draw of more money and paying off student loan debt is hitting not just practicing nurses but also nursing educators who are training up the next generation of nurses.

“$5,000-$8,000 a week... they’re looking at, again it all comes back to that student loan debt that they have incurred along the way,” explained Kathy Elliott, Dean of Health Science, Hinds Community College.

That’s especially a problem since many nurse educators have recently retired or will be eligible to do so in the next five years. And because the schools have a certain educator to student ratio they have to maintain, it limits the number of new nurses that can be trained.

“I can only speak for Hinds, but we do have probably anywhere from 50 to 100 qualified applicants that we are not able to take due to clinical spacing, faculty numbers, that type of thing,” added Elliott.

A $3.8 million grant from the Bower Foundation will allow 64 nursing scholarship recipients at the state’s community colleges to get their masters through UMMC tuition free with the hope that they’ll stick around for longer.

“We’re hoping it just stops some of the bleeding,” noted Dr. Julie Sanford, Dean of the School of Nursing.

Building up that bullpen of nursing educators will ultimately have a domino effect for health care in the state.

“Better education also results in better patient care,” explained Dr. Ralph Didlake, UMMC Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. “So, in a very real way this grant reaches every patient that those future students will ever touch. So, you can understand why the medical center is so excited about this grant because it aligns perfectly with our mission to improve the health of Mississippi.”

Another feature of this new program is that it will be offered online. So, those already invested in the community where they’re living won’t have to leave.

Great Health Divide is an initiative addressing health disparities in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia funded in part by the Google News Initiative.

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