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VGCC Helps Boost Nursing

December 18, 2002

By PAULETTE CHU, Daily Dispatch Writer

In an effort to improve health care in rural counties and fight a nationwide nursing shortage, Vance-Granville Community College is joining with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to offer a local master’s degree program in nursing.

The partnership stems from a $200,000 grant to UNC from Golden LEAF, the foundation that distributes North Carolina tobacco settlement funds to regions especially affected or dependent on the industry.

“Money is always an issue,” said Beth Phillips, the director of the nursing program at Vance-Granville. “A lot of students struggle just to get this far and don’t want to stop working to go back to school.”

The program is aimed at nursing graduates from community colleges in eight counties, including Vance and Granville. The nurses would earn a nurse practitioner’s license while continuing to work in their hometowns.

In addition, the grant helps pay for 12 scholarships, covering the cost of tuition at Chapel Hill, books, clinical practice, a laptop computer and Internet service.

The advanced degree otherwise costs students an average of $2,018 per semester in tuition plus $150 per clinical course, $500 to $1,500 in books per semester, and $1,200 a month in living expenses, said Jean Goeppinger, a program coordinator and professor at UNC’s Schools of Nursing and Public Health.

“In order to become a nurse practitioner, the two biggest barriers are dollars and distance, so this grant enables us to begin addressing that,” Goeppinger said. “Dollars, by offering scholarships, and distance, by offering more classes on the Web.”

This fall, Vance-Granville accepted 37 of 100 applicants to its registered nursing program, most of whom are virtually guaranteed jobs after graduating because of the demand amid an ongoing decline in young people entering the profession, Phillips said.

The average registered nurse is 45 years old, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The average nursing student at Vance-Granville is 32, Phillips said, leading health care professionals to expect at least half the the nursing work force to retire within 15 years.

“Years ago women only chose nursing or teaching,” Phillips said. “There’s so many other fields now, especially for women. I think the whole generational attitude has changed, and it takes a very smart and strongly committed person to succeed in nursing.”

The industry hopes that broadening the profession’s scope through graduate programs will attract more young people – women and men – with the prospect of increased job security and salaries.

Nurse practitioners earn an average $55,000 a year, which is $13,000 a year more than registered nurses without advanced degrees, according to the American Association of Critical Care Nurses.

Nurse practitioners are licensed primary care providers who make diagnoses and prescribe medicine. Program sponsors say that by enlarging the pool of care providers, rural nurse practitioners help smaller, lower-wealth areas that often suffer from scarce health care resources.

“There’s more of a need, … more vacancies for them in rural areas,” Goeppinger said.

“They also work in a variety of settings,” she said, including medical practices, independently or with doctors, and in local health departments.

Goeppinger said the university will begin recruiting for the program in January. To qualify for the scholarship, applicants must live and plan to keep working in one of the eight targeted counties and meet UNC-Chapel Hill’s graduate school admission requirements.


The writer can be reached by mailto:pchu@hendersondispatch.com .