Scholarship program fast-tracks nurses’ training to ease workforce shortages

Dawn Mueller-Burke, left, a nurse practitioner works with third-year student Anny Park, right. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

By Susan Freinkel

November 30, 2023

Nearly 900 Arizona students are on a fully paid fast track to become registered nurses to address the state’s critical nursing shortage, thanks to the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Help for nursing students

The ARPA provided Arizona’s Department of Health Services with $88 million in funding to ease the nursing crunch. Some of the money is being used to beef up capacity in nursing education programs and at hospitals where nursing students get on-the-job experience in clinical rotations.

But the biggest chunk, $43.1 million, goes toward scholarships. The money supports students in accelerated programs, where they can complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing in 12–18 months, compared to the usual four years.

The programs receiving funds are at these universities:

 

The need is pressing, given Arizona’s rapidly growing and aging population.

Running on empty

Arizona has one of the worst shortages of healthcare workers in the country. Hospitals across the state struggle to deliver care, especially in rural communities and tribal areas. Experts point to a number of reasons nursing is in trouble:

  • The stress of working through the COVID-19 pandemic drove many from the field
  • Inadequate staffing increases the likelihood of job burn-out
  • A significant portion of nurses are at retirement age
  • There’s a decline in newcomers entering the profession
  • Nursing programs can’t expand enrollment because they don’t have enough faculty, clinical sites, or classroom space.

 

The programs funded through the ARPA expand the opportunities for a nursing career. “There’s such a critical shortage, we have to do everything we can,” said Connie Miller, chair of the Nursing and Health Education division at the University of Arizona College of Nursing.

A four-year commitment to Arizona

Recipients agree to practice nursing in Arizona for at least four years—or pay the money back. Many new nurses get overwhelmed by the job and quit after a year or two, said Janina Johnson, executive director of the School of Nursing at Northern Arizona State University in Flagstaff. “This four-year commitment will hopefully get us over that hump and allow us to increase the workforce in Arizona.”

For more information about scholarship opportunities, contact the nursing programs at the universities listed above.

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