Frontier Nursing University in Hyden helps bring better family health care to rural America with distance learning

Midwives and nurse practitioners who recently graduated from Frontier Nursing University in Hyden address the unique challenges of rural areas, including shortages of health care providers, by bringing local health care to rural communities across the country. FNU was featured in a recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

FNU, a graduate program that offers distance education to nurses with an interest in nurse-midwifery and family nurse practitioner and women’s health specialties, aims to build a pipeline of highly educated nurses serving in rural or underserved areas, reports RWJF, one of its funders.  Many scholars and grantees sponsored by RWJF go on to spearhead projects to improve access to high quality nursing care in remote areas, the foundation says.

“We’re trying to introduce primary care providers into rural areas in such a way that they can provide high quality care and preventive services too,” says Suzan Ulrich, associate dean of midwifery and women’s health at FNU and an RWJF executive nurse fellow.

Demand for health care is rising nationwide because of an aging population that is living longer, but sicker, with multiple chronic conditions. The need for health care providers will intensify next year, when millions of new patients will become eligible for health insurance under the health-reform law.

Rural parts of the country face unique challenges and shortages of health providers, including nurses, can be particularly acute in rural areas, said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association. These nurses and other providers have less access to education programs, which tend to be located in more densely populated areas. Programs that offer advanced degrees, from the baccalaureate to the doctorate, can be especially difficult to access for students living in rural areas, according to RWJF.

Identifying and educating nurses from rural areas is a key goal of FNU, which offers distance education programs that enable students to remain in their home communities and a “bridge” program that allows nurses with associate’s degrees to move more easily into master’s and doctorate programs. “These students really love where they live,” Ulrich said. “If we can educate them to stay within their communities, then those communities are going to have a provider who’s going to be there a long time.” (Read more)

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