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Shepherd U. School of Nursing's $2.6M Rural Grant to Boost Both Family and Mental Health Nurse Practitioners

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   July 21, 2023

$2.6M HRSA grant will help West Virginia's 'most vulnerable populations.'

A rural grant awarded to Shepherd University’s School of Nursing will boost the number of primary care nurse practitioners (NPs) and psychiatric mental health NPs to help support West Virginia’s “most vulnerable populations.”

The four-year, $2.6 million grant, given by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) provides Shepherd $649,998 a year—about $417,000 of which will cover yearly tuition and fees for 30 graduate and certificate students, according to the university.

Beginning in fall 2023, grant money will provide scholarships for students in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program as well as programs offering post-graduate certificates for family nurse practitioners (FNP) and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHMP).

"This grant will support nurse practitioners who are primary care providers in the region—and there is an inadequate number of providers at this point in time," said Sharon Mailey, PhD, RN, dean, College of Nursing, Education, and Health Sciences, and director, School of Nursing.

"We have many specialists, but we don’t have sufficient numbers of individuals at the primary care level who are facilitating access into the healthcare system for patients who have the most vulnerable needs," she said.

Indeed, the need for primary care advanced practice nurses (APRNs) in rural areas is great, as hospitals close and the number of physicians declines. Nearly 80% of U.S. rural counties are medical deserts, with no access to healthcare services, according to the National Rural Health Association.

Rural residents with mental healthcare needs are also struggling with the lack of providers. Nationwide, some 158 million people live in Mental Healthcare Health Professional Shortage Areas, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

"If you can be an FNP/PMHMP, it is ideal, because there is a backlog to refer your patients anywhere for mental health," said Kelly Watson Huffer, DNP, CRNP, CNE, associate professor of nursing education and grant project director. "There’s a six-month waitlist for most psychiatry and you have kids who need stimulant medication for ADHD and patients with depression and anxiety issues. If someone can serve in both roles in a primary care office, they are really facilitating getting their patients treated in a timely manner."

The grant will help Shepherd DNP and certificate students gain practical rural health experience at four federally qualified health centers and two mental health substance abuse disorder treatment centers.

"Doctoral education is expensive and time intensive. In addition, our students are working, and have families and other responsibilities," Watson Huffer said. "Taking the financial stress away is just one more thing to help them with their education."

The grant also strengthens healthcare in northeast West Virginia’s rural areas.

"Being able to support our students and West Virginia’s most vulnerable populations allows us to keep resources in our community," said Kayla Landsberger, project coordinator.

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


The grant will focus on educating primary care and psychiatric mental health NPs.

It will cover yearly tuition and fees for 30 graduate and certificate students.

About 158 million people nationwide live in Mental Healthcare Health Professional Shortage Areas.

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