Grant will help rural students with cold commute

by Bei Hu

Imo Powell, a registered nurse from Cushing, Minn., drives for more than two hours to her nurse practitioner class in Moorhead every week. Her travel time back home almost doubled Wednesday because of treacherous road conditions.
But soon, some students from rural areas will not have to brave blowing snow and sub-zero temperatures to go to class. Instead, they will be able to do most of their coursework without leaving their home communities.
The University and eight other schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin recently received a $1.3 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fund the Minnesota Partnerships for Training Project. The grant will enable them to offer long-distance education programs for nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants.
“The whole notion is that students who live in communities that have shortages of primary care providers would be able to enroll in education programs that would enable them to do the majority of their education in their community,” said Christine Mueller, director of the project.
“The vehicle for doing that is extensive use of distance-education technology, and also being able to the do clinical training in their home community,” Mueller added.
The Johnson Foundation, which is located in New Jersey, initiated the program to help recruit and educate primary care practitioners for rural and inner-city communities, which are in need of such personnel.
In October 1995, the foundation awarded more than $3 million to 12 applicants nationwide to design such regional training programs. The Minnesota project and two other initiatives in Colorado and Wisconsin are the first three to receive implementation funding.
Over the next five years, planners of the Minnesota project will develop 16 courses, covering such areas as pharmacology, pathophysiology and ethics. Classes are likely to begin in fall 1997.
The project will include two-year master’s degree programs for nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives. Students in such programs have usually received some medical education.
By contrast, physician assistant students spend the first two years in school studying basic sciences before concentrating on medicine. Mueller said physician assistant students’ curricula are usually modelled after shorter medical education programs.
The project plans to train 100 nurse practitioners, about nine certified nurse midwives and 35 physician assistants in the next five years.
Courses would be offered through interactive television at various sites. The project would also enable students to access databases and library resources via the Internet.
Likewise, students will gain clinical experience through working with physicians and nurse practitioners within their home communities. Such a strategy would break down a physical barrier that has kept some rural students from pursuing advanced education or returning to those communities to practice.
Half of her Moorhead classmates drive 60 to 100 miles to go to school, Powell said. Four or five of the eight students could not attend classes, and almost all of them have missed clinical rotations in the past weeks because of poor weather, she added.
Although financial stress is another factor that has prevented some potential students from going back to school, planners are also working with local communities to develop relief methods, Mueller said.