The Tuskegee University School of Nursing and Allied Health is partnering with the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing and six community-based health organizations in Alabama to help improve health outcomes in medically underserved areas of the state.
The project, “Building a Resilient Primary Care Registered Nursing Workforce for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control in Alabama,” is funded by a $2.8 million Nursing Education, Practice, Quality and Retention (NEPQR) grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). It will focus on training and sustaining baccalaureate-prepared RNs working in medically underserved areas and in team-focused primary care.
“Alabama and the U.S. have primary care service deficits, especially in medically underserved areas, and BSN-prepared RNs are capable of assuming greater responsibility for care management for patients with chronic conditions, as well as follow-up and complex specialty care conditions,” said Dr. Maria Shirey, the project’s principal investigator, and professor and chair of UAB’s Department of Acute, Chronic and Continuing Care. “They also can provide safe, high-quality care to at-risk populations, such as patients with multiple chronic conditions, while also managing the costs of such care.”
The project will create a nurse-led primary care hub with six community partners throughout Alabama — expanding existing and creating new academic-practice partnerships in medically underserved areas in Jefferson, Etowah and Macon counties. Local sites like the Macon County Department of Health will serve as clinical training locations for BSN students focusing on primary care nursing with an emphasis on chronic disease prevention and control in diabetes, high blood pressure, mental health and substance abuse.
Tuskegee’s role as an affiliate partner strengthens both universities’ collective contributions toward the national call for RNs to work as partners in transforming primary care. Tuskegee faculty will participate, and 12 Tuskegee BSN students will be among the 60 students expected to graduate as RN Primary Care Scholars across the four-year project.
“Tuskegee University Nursing is honored to partner with UAB on this very needed initiative,” said School of Nursing and Allied Health dean, Dr. Constance Hendricks, a two-time UAB graduate and former faculty member. “Our graduates will be the beneficiaries of this unique opportunity to become RN Primary Care Scholars and to gain additional skills and knowledge to better serve those in our Black Belt communities with chronic health care needs alongside their UAB counterparts.”
Shirey agreed that the partnership strengthens the relationship between the two nursing programs, not to mention the availability of quality health care for Alabama’s most vulnerable and underserved populations.
“We wanted Tuskegee as an affiliate partner due to our longstanding informal relationship and synergy across our respective visions and missions,” Shirey said. “This affiliate partnership also provides a unique opportunity to address health disparities in the Black Belt area of the state by educating nurses who plan to stay in their communities. In educating undergraduate nursing students and practicing RNs in team-focused primary care, together UAB and Tuskegee will contribute toward the national call for RNs to work as partners in transforming primary care.”
Part of the project also will focus on building a resilient workforce by providing the primary care RN workforce with skills to cope with the challenges of vulnerable populations. As a result, the project will help keep RNs healthy and engaged over the course of their careers through new professional development and networking programs.
Beginning in 2019, the program will be open to senior undergraduate BSN or RN-to-BSN students with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or greater and a faculty recommendation. Known as RNPC Scholars, the students will complete a newly developed course of both classroom and clinical experiential learning in primary care nursing, providing them with at least 150 hours of training. Both primary and community health nursing competencies will be integrated, enabling students to participate in the full spectrum of community-based prevention interventions at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
Alabama and the U.S. are in the midst of a primary care service shortage, which is growing exponentially, according to Shirey. The UAB-Tuskegee partnership is one more avenue to ensuring a healthy nursing workforce in the state.
“Cultivating BSN-prepared nurses in our RNPC Scholars program complements our efforts in building nurse practitioner capacity for primary care; it adds training and development for current undergraduate students to practice to the full scope of their licenses in community-based primary care teams,” she said. “This RN Primary Care project is a logical next step to expand [the] impact on primary and secondary prevention efforts in medically underserved areas throughout Alabama.”
Tuskegee University thanks Jennifer Lollar of the University of Alabama at Birmingham for her original reporting of this news item.
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