UTHSC College of Nursing Working to Establish Rural Health Care Workforce

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The UTHSC College of Nursing has received approximately $3 million in grant funding from HRSA to train DNP students who will practice in rural or underserved communities in the Delta region. (Photo by Allen Gillespie/UTHSC)

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Nursing has received approximately $3 million in grant funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to improve health care with an emphasis on maternal and obstetrical services for underserved and rural populations in the Delta region.

The Advanced Nursing Education Workforce for Healthy Delta Moms and Babies program will educate the advanced nurse practitioner workforce to better meet the needs of mothers and babies in West Tennessee and northern Mississippi.

It begins this fall, and will train doctor of nursing practice (DNP) students, who will commit to being health care providers in rural clinics and underserved areas. A commitment of three years will guarantee DNP students enrolled in the program free tuition, books, and a small stipend.

Professor Sarah Rhoads, PhD, DNP, WHNP-BC, RNC-OB, FAAN, will lead the Advanced Nursing Education Workforce for Healthy Delta Moms and Babies program, along with Sara Day, PhD, RN, FAAN, associate professor and assistant dean for the Center for Community and Global Partnerships; and Assistant Professors Bobby Bellflower, DNSc, NNP; Laura Reed, DNP, FNP; and Jackie Sharp, DNP, APRN, PMHNP-BC.

“Many health systems have ceased providing obstetrical services, due to the lack of providers, lack of regional support, and the lack of resources,” Dr. Rhoads said. A resident of Lonoke, Arkansas, a community of about 4,000 people, she said she has to drive 40 minutes for specialty health care. This type of commute for health care services is typical for rural Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi. For certain specialties, such as obstetrical care, the commute could be longer due to lack of local services.

“Since 2015, seven hospitals in Tennessee have ceased obstetrical services,” she said. Maternal death rates in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas rank among the worst in the country. “It’s very important for women to receive quality health care where they live. It is important to train nurse practitioners in rural communities, so ideally, they will live and practice in that community after graduation.”

Several strategic goals to improve health outcomes have been identified, including further enhancing innovative academic-practice partnerships with Regional One Health, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, and rural clinics in Mississippi and Tennessee; placing and supporting DNP students in rural or medically underserved areas; and enhancing education for students and preceptors in maternal mortality, opioid use during pregnancy and neonatal abstinence syndrome, and connected health technology and telemedicine.

“Rural health care is really near and dear to my heart,” Dr. Rhoads said. “The excellent thing about this program is we are going to develop close partnerships with institutions and ideally it will be a win-win for both. We will make an impact on rural communities as well as underserved communities here in Memphis. Ideally, students rotating in the rural health care clinics and the medically underserved areas in Memphis will fall in love with those communities and work there when they graduate.”

The Tennessee Center for Health Workforce Development and the Rural Health Association of Tennessee have partnered to assist with job placement of nurse practitioner graduates. Dr. Rhoads said the program will provide continuing education events for the students and Academic-Practice partners.

“Clinicians in these facilities take time out of their busy schedules to mentor and precept our nurse practitioner students,” Dr. Rhoads said. “This program will provide free continuing education for preceptors related to maternal opioid use and ways to improve obstetrical and neonatal outcomes through quality improvement projects.”

In addition, Dr. Rhoads said that the program will deploy an online education portal, which will allow preceptors to obtain continuing education hours at their convenience. It will also record all of the educational events they have completed in an online transcript.

“Community is a focus for the UTHSC College of Nursing,” said Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, ARNP-BC, FAANP, dean of the UTHSC College of Nursing. “This critical project, led by Dr. Rhoads, is in alignment with our goal of improving the health of our community through collaboration and partnerships.”