Project aims to address nursing shortage in rural areas

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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JMU plans to hire nurses that will be based at local clinics,
says Erika Metzler Sawin. Photo by Norm Shafer

The James Madison University School of Nursing has begun a project it hopes will help increase the number of nurses serving rural communities.

The school is training nursing students in the Undergraduate Primary Care and Rural Education Project (UPCARE). The project, which will focus on Page County, is the result of a four-year, $2.7 million federal grant JMU received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Nurse Education, Practice, Quality and Retention program.

The federal program provided 42 grants nationwide. JMU was one of three Virginia universities among the recipients. The other two were George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University. “We are the only school in Virginia that will be focusing on rural areas,” says Erika Metzler Sawin, the director of UPCARE at JMU.

UPCARE’s project partners will be Valley Health Page Memorial Hospital’s rural health centers and JMU’s Counseling and Psychological Services.

UPCARE is designed to address nursing shortages for primary-care, mental-health and substance/opioid abuse treatment at the health clinics. Page County was chosen because it is a rural, medically underserved area.

“From the viewpoint of the hospital, this relationship will help with recruiting nurses,” says Benjamin Dolewski, Valley Health’s operations manager. “Since nursing shortages are becoming more widespread over the county, any contact or relationship to bring quality employees to our organization will be beneficial.”

Nationally, rural health and primary-care medicine are not emphasized in many nursing programs, Sawin says. “This will help us to incorporate those topics into the curriculum in general.”

In Page County, the project will work with two health clinics in Luray, one in Stanley and another in Shenandoah. The nursing school plans to hire nurses that will be based at the clinics. “We will additionally be hiring a liaison nurse to oversee the nurses in the clinics and work with us at JMU,” Sawin says, noting a JMU-based team of four faculty members will help with the project.

Students applying to the project before entering JMU’s nursing program will become UPCARE Scholars. During the four-year funding period, 56 scholars are expected to receive training. “Hopefully this will help students learn more about non-hospital areas where they can work and also about working in primary care,” Sawin says.

Graduate psychology students also will work with the students on the treatment of mental-health and substance-abuse disorders.

Sawin expects the project to benefit “our students, who will learn so much, and I think we will be able to give the community a lot, too.”

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