BINGHAMTON, NY – The Decker School of Nursing has received a two-year, $757,000 traineeship grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to provide financial support for graduate students. The purpose of the grant, according to HRSA, is to “increase the number of advanced education nurses trained to practice as primary care providers and/or nursing faculty to address the nursing shortage that inhibits nursing schools from educating the number of nurses needed to meet demand.”

“We received every penny we asked for,” Decker School of Nursing Dean Joyce Ferrario said. “The funds, from HRSA’s Division of Nursing, are being used for our nurse practitioner students for all of our specialties because they consider psych mental health primary care as well.”

Funded students receive a stipend and tuition waiver, said Ferrario. “The Graduate School also provided a match of $25,000 in tuition, and actually, when the semester started, the grant hadn’t come in and we had students with no funding, so the Graduate School also fronted us funds to get them started until the grant came in.”

Students who are funded must stay academically sound to receive funding the second year. “This grant will get students through the master’s degree,” said Ferrario. “We are supporting some part-time students as well, and we’ve not been able to do that before.” In total 15 full-time and eight part-time students are being funded.

Jo Ann Ernst applied for the funding at Ferrario’s urging. A working nurse who returned to school after a number of years working in ambulatory and breast care at a local hospital, Ernst appreciates the ability to focus on her studies and training without the financial burden she might otherwise have.

“I’m not worried that I really should be working and now I can start my day and ‘hit the books,’” she said. “My first two years I was a part-time student and also working, and I found that very difficult. Now I am a full-time student and this grant helps me not spread myself too thin.”

Ernst hasn’t yet settled on a nurse practitioner concentration, but said it will likely be primary care or a focus on diabetes. Her capstone project, which is still being formulated, is due next spring and she expects it will focus on diabetes and obesity. “Diabetes is a burden to have and it affects everything you do – and everything your family does as well,” she said.

Ernst then hopes to springboard from her capstone project as she pursues her Doctor of Nurse Practitioner degree. “My goal is to study really hard and when I get out to be the best practitioner that I can be,” she said.

Another Decker student, Michele Summers, is still working part-time for Lourdes Home Care, where she started after earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the Decker School in 2009. Now studying to become a family nurse practitioner and to earn her Doctor of Nurse Practitioner degree, she’ll earn her master’s degree along the way, in part thanks to the HRSA grant tuition and stipend support.

Summers, who may continue on for her PhD after earning her DNP, has three full-time college students in her household. “It means a lot to me not to have to stress our family finances,” she said. “I didn’t want to take out more loans if I didn’t have to. I would love to teach plus develop something in the community.”