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Federal Grant For Nursing Students Boosts Primary Care In Rural Washington

Courtesy of UW School of Nursing
A nurse practitioner listens to a patient.

Nearly every county in Washington has a shortage of doctors, particularly in the areas of primary care and mental health. But there is a new push to train more practitioners for rural and underserved places.

Money from a federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration will help train nurse practitioners and nurse midwives to go into rural areas where they can fill the gap.  The grant awarded to the School of Nursing at the University of Washington will allow students to get hands-on work in communities where there are fewer resources.

For years, most Washington counties have not had enough primary care providers, especially in rural areas.  That’s partly because many doctors coming out of school pursue specialties. At the same time, more people in Washington now have insurance through expanded coverage. 

UW Professor of Nursing Hilaire Thompson says practitioners are trained to work independently since there aren’t always specialists available to consult with, and sometimes the MRI machine comes to town only once a week.

The patient's environment is another factor.

“Hanford area, for example, or someone who is working in different agriculture areas -- the exposures of chemicals or environmental toxins might be very different, and so the symptoms and diseases might also be very different,” Thompson said.

Thompson says nursing students will now have the chance to work one-on-one with clinicians in these communities for an extended period of time. That extra time sometimes works as an incentive – it helps students get a taste of rural life, and can help them make the decision to set up practice there.

“We’ve had students who have gone – who always grew up in the city, always grew up in urban areas but then has opportunities to go out and work in rural populations and just fall in love with it,” said Thompson.

Nursing students will work within a network of clinics in Clark, Skagit and Grays Harbor counties.  They’ll train side by side with professionals who have experience working with the diverse group of patients.

Nurse practitioners in Washington can work independently and handle everything from preventative care to pediatrics and psychiatry.