Wanted: Nurses in rural places

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

An advanced practice Registered Nurse consults with a patient in this file image provided by UNM Health Sciences. (Source: UNM)

Presbyterian Healthcare Services and the University of New Mexico are teaming up on a program designed to lure nurses into some of the state’s most rural areas.

The two health care organizations collaborated to land a $3.2 million grant from the national Health Resources and Services Administration to be used to develop a residency program for nurse practitioners in 10 New Mexico cities and towns. Johanna Stiesmeyer, director of clinical education and professional development for Presbyterian, said the program is an important step toward getting nurses and midwives to relocate and stay in remote areas of the state.

“Getting providers out there to those communities is so, so hard,” Stiesmeyer said.

On average, rural residents tend to be less healthy than those in urban areas, and have significantly less access to nurses and other health resources, according to a study from Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. The study says fewer than 11% of physicians in the U.S. practice in rural areas, where 20% of the population lives. Over 20 million rural Americans live in areas that have a provider-to-patient ratio of 1-to-3,500 or worse.

Stiesmeyer said the problem is particularly stark in New Mexico’s rural counties, where roughly one-third of the state’s 2.1 million residents live. Nationwide, there are about 0.83 nurses per 1,000 residents, Stiesmeyer said. In rural New Mexico, the nurse-to-resident ratio is roughly one-third of that.

“There is just a monster gap for patients out there,” she said.

Through the grant, the program will send graduates from UNM’s College of Nursing to 10 communities: Capitan, Carrizozo, Corona, Española, Ruidoso, Southwest Albuquerque, Socorro, Belen, Los Lunas and Tucumcari.

Carolyn Montoya, associate dean of clinical affairs at the UNM College of Nursing, said the program has an educational focus and is designed to teach the participating graduates to handle some of the particular challenges they could see in their communities. Montoya added that there will be a particular focus on mental health issues, substance abuse and dealing with patients who have a mix of ailments.

Stiesmeyer said the nurses will be placed in a clinic and paired with an instructor, giving them a chance to learn in a hands-on setting while still having assistance. Montoya added that telecommunication will be a big part of the program, allowing nurses to communicate with doctors in urban centers.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to have support within that first year of practice,” Montoya said.

The long-term vision is to create a group of nurses comfortable with health care in rural communities and who are more likely to stay there, Montoya said.

The grant funds the program for four years, and Montoya said the program will place three cohorts of nine participants each over the life span of the program. The first group of nurses and midwives will be selected in the first half of 2020, and their one-year residency will begin on July 1.

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