Viterbo awarded $1.64 million grant for nursing program

Program helps recruit students from rural areas

The demand for nurses is high, especially in rural and underdeveloped areas.

A new grant awarded to Viterbo is hoping to reverse the trend.

The grant, through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is for $1.64 million.

The money will for scholarships and a program designed to get more students from rural areas more interested in a career in nursing.

The goal is to provide better health care access in less developed areas.

For Viterbo University, getting a wider variety of students into their nursing program is critical.

“We have 700 nursing students. Out of that 700, only 6 percent come from diverse backgrounds,” Mary Lu Gerke, dean of the college of nursing, health and human behavior for Viterbo, said.

The grant will support a Viterbo program to recruit middle and high school students in from diverse backgrounds, including rural areas like Sparta and Arcadia.

“One of the things we’ll do into the school districts, go into the classrooms, so that they can see our nursing students and look at them and thinking potentially ‘I could do it too?'” Judy Casto, director for the program, said.

But the grant also looks at the shortage of nurses in less-populated areas.

“The rural area has the largest shortage,” Gerke said. “The health in rural America is 60 percent worse than if they came from an urban area.”

That’s why the grant will also focus on placing nursing students back in rural areas during their clinical.

“If we actually educate them in the rural settings, it’s been proven that those students will have a better likelihood of going back to those communities to serve,” Gerke said.

“What actually happens in rural nursing, is that they actually are a jack-of-all trades, because anything could possibly come through the door,” Casto said.

Viterbo said the grant helps solve two problems and provides opportunities and health care to thousands of people.

“Bringing those students, giving them an opportunity to have a career in something like nursing could just be life-changing. Not only for them, but for the communities they come from,” Casto said.

Viterbo calls their program the “Nurses for Underserved Rural Students Seeking Education Success, or NURSES for short.

They hope to eventually enroll six students into the program by next winter, and 12 students total in the coming year.

Vitbero is only one of 29 colleges and universities in the nation to receive the grant.