$19M nursing scholarship program leading to more partnerships to bolster health care staffing

Anew partnership between Grand Valley State University and BHSH System to increase the talent pipeline for nurses could lead to a series of similar efforts as health care and higher education officials seek to resolve an urgent staffing crisis.

Under the partnership announced earlier this month, the BHSH System – the health system created through the February merger between Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids and Southfield-based Beaumont Health – committed $ 19 million toward increasing the talent pipeline for nurses who earn their degree at GVSU.

Through the BHSH Spectrum Health West Michigan Nurse Scholar program, the Grand Rapids health system seeks to support up to 500 additional students over six years at the GVSU Kirkhof College of Nursing. That includes offering $ 10,000 annual scholarships for nursing students in their junior and senior years.

GVSU will also use the funding to support clinical placements, enhanced curriculum, technology and equipment, and student support services.

Meanwhile, GVSU’s Kirkhof College of Nursing has active conversations occurring with other clinical partners locally and other areas where it places nursing students for training, Acting Dean Lola Coke said.

The arrangement with the BHSH System is not exclusive as GVSU looks to bolster the profession’s workforce, Coke said.

“There is room for others locally to partner. There are many conversations (ongoing with) GVSU, ”she said. “We are really open to working with all of our practice partners, including those that are a bit regional and more regional in northern Michigan, to look at ways to help increase their talent pipeline similar to what BHSH and Grand Valley have entered into.”

A second partnership in addition to what GVSU has planned with the BHSH System could come together “very shortly,” Coke said.

“Our practice partners are very anxious to put together a partnership. I think we’ll have another one real soon, probably in the next couple of months, ”she said.

Further partnerships with the GVSU Kirkhof College of Nursing would take into account nuances and dynamics in the local markets of partnering care providers and may extend into areas such as licensed practical nursing students as health systems explore new care models, Coke said.

As well, GVSU is looking at similar partnerships in professions besides nursing – social workers or lab technicians in the biosciences industry, for example – that have a pressing talent need, she said.

‘Bold step forward’

BHSH and GVSU partnered on the program as Michigan and the nation face a nursing shortage that has worsened in the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t have enough nurses to care for the people in our state, and that shortage has been exacerbated by the burnout and stress caused by the pandemic,” said BHSH System President and CEO Tina Freese Decker.

“This reality requires us to think differently and boldly. We must challenge the status quo, ”Freese Decker said. “This partnership is a fantastic example of challenging the status quo and taking a bold step forward to meeting a critical need in our communities, in our state, and potentially a model that can be replicated across the rest of the country by others.”

Freese Decker cited data indicating that Michigan may face a shortening of up to 30,000 nurses by 2030. Among students who graduate from GVSU with a degree in a health profession, more than 90 percent stay in Michigan.

The BHSH funding enables GVSU to scale up the Kirkhof College’s capacity amid the nursing shortage and a tight talent market that’s affecting many industries, GVSU President Philomena Mantella said during a recent media briefing.

“This moment is a moment of urgency in nursing and many other fields. And this moment requires us to think differently, to think about new ways in which each of us lean into the current moment and be sure that we are fulfilling our mission, ”Mantella said. “It is the kind of thing that we’re going to need to be doing if we’re going to address the talent gaps urgently today, whether it’s in nursing or tech or artificial intelligence, whatever the areas are.”

The program would drive a significant increase in the Kirkhof College of Nursing’s capacity. The college presently admits 160 students annually in its traditional nursing program, plus 72 people per year in an accelerated program for students earning a secondary degree.

Through the scholarship program with BHSH that begins in January 2023, the Kirkhof College of Nursing will admit up to another 104 nursing students annually, Coke said. The scholarship will offset a large portion of the $ 15,000 annual cost of tuition for nursing students in their junior and senior years, Coke added.

Capacity would increase if the Kirkhof College adds more partnerships, she said.

About half of the $ 19 million will go to direct student aid with a work commitment of one year per $ 10,000 scholarship. The rest will go to faculty costs, infrastructure and other student support.

The BHSH money will cover one-time infrastructure costs to expand capacity at the Kirkhof College, Coke said. Tuition will support ongoing costs such as additional faculty.

“The goal is to build sustainability with that higher capacity over time in a phased approach,” she said. “The revenue from tuition will sustain us over time.”

Students who receive a grant each year in their junior and senior years at the Kirkhof College are expected to go to work at BHSH after graduating, although details of the requirement are pending, said BHSH Chief Nurse Executive Shawn Ulreich.

If a student decides Spectrum Health isn’t the right fit for them and they go to work elsewhere, the grant would turn into a zero-interest loan.


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