St. Scholastica grant will help train RNs for primary care careers

“This is consistent with the direction in which healthcare is moving,” College of St. Scholastica President Collette Geary, Ph.D., said at a Friday news conference.

Assisted by a $2.76 million federal grant, the College of St. Scholastica is launching a new project to steer registered nurses toward primary care careers, particularly in rural areas where healthcare providers are less plentiful.

Training for RN students historically has been skewed toward acute care. Given the high cost of in-patient treatment, there has been a growing push to enhance preventive care at clinics.  Through the Rural Registered Nurses in Primary Care project (RRNPC), students will learn the theory and skills needed to provide enhanced primary care. Working with Essentia Health, they will gain work experience in actual clinical settings.

“This is consistent with the direction in which healthcare is moving,” College of St. Scholastica President Collette Geary, Ph.D., said at a Friday news conference. “Healthcare is changing to a more community-based and prevention-based model. We’re very proud to be partnering with Essentia on the leading edge of this transition in healthcare delivery.”

The goal is to have RNs working at the highest level their licensure allows, she said. The added skills, added Essentia Health CEO Dr. David Herman, will give his organization a better-prepared RN workforce.

“At the end of the day, the real winners of this grant will not be Essentia Health or the College of St. Scholastica but the patients in the communities that we are privileged to serve,” he said. 

The four-year grant, provided by the U.S. Department and Health and Human Services, allows for one year of curriculum development. 

“We’ll do a gap analysis and revise the curriculum,” said Dr. Sheryl Sandahl, interim dean of the St. Scholastica School of Nursing. Money is also available to retrain existing RNs to understand the new emphasis. Nurse preceptors, who train students on the job, particularly need that instruction.

“The concepts are the same but it’s a different venue. We’ll still need acute care but we’ll integrate the primary care aspect. People’s health will be better managed, so they’ll be less likely to need acute care,” Sandahl said.

Julie Knuths, St. Scholastica interim chair of undergraduate nursing, said simulation scenarios also will change. More will involve out-patient care, she explained.

Wanda Gordon, director of nursing for ambulatory care at Essentia Health, noted that the skills learned by new RNs will differ from what traditional nurses have witnessed during bedside clinicals. 

“It’s going to be a game changer. We’ll all have an opportunity to grow through this project,” she said.

“This will provide a platform for our current nurses to work together to better design a team model,” Herman added.

No similar grants were distributed in Minnesota.