Shepherd University’s School of Nursing has received a four-year, $2.7 million Advanced Nursing Education Workforce Grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. The grant will be used for an Innovative Modalities for Rural Nurse Practitioner Education and Collaboration to Transcend Health Disparities (IMPACT) program designed to encourage advanced practice nurses to work in rural West Virginia communities helping underserved populations and to promote the use of treatment such as photobiomodulation (PBM) light therapy to manage pain to help reduce opioid use in the region.

Shepherd has partnered with four federally qualified health centers—Shenandoah Valley Medical Systems in Martinsburg; Tri-State Community Health Center, serving Morgan County, Washington and Allegheny counties, Maryland, and Fulton County, Pennsylvania; E.A. Hawse Health Center in Hardy County; and Mountaineer Community Health Center in Paw Paw—where Shepherd’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) students will gain practical experience.

“We’re thrilled to be partners with these health centers,” said Dr. Sharon Mailey, dean of the College of Nursing, Education, and Health Sciences and director of the School of Nursing. “Students will have an immersion experience in rural health primary care at these clinics and this will foster retention in the region helping impact health of our most vulnerable West Virginians.”

Dr. Kelly Watson Huffer, assistant professor of nursing and IMPACT project manager, said the program will allow Shepherd to bring innovative therapies and treatment modalities such as PBM and telehealth into Shepherd’s curriculum and to the community health centers. Shepherd will use some of the grant money to purchase PBM and telehealth equipment and to train D.N.P. students in this new technology.

“We want to put the additional photobiomodulation equipment out there in the community in the hands of our students and get them to start using it in the clinics,” Huffer said. “Chronic pain is a huge problem across the country. Certainly West Virginia has its problems with opioid abuse and overdoses. We’re hoping the PBM technology will help intervene in that.”

In addition to learning PBM and telehealth, the grant will provide the opportunity for D.N.P. students and the preceptors who work with them in the clinics to become certified in medication-assisted treatment, which combines behavioral therapy and medications to treat opioid abuse, and trained in the use of naloxone, an opioid reversing drug that can be given to those who overdose.

Huffer said other goals include increasing high-quality clinical training opportunities for Shepherd students enrolled in the family nurse practitioner track of the D.N.P. program, with an emphasis on learning about the needs of vulnerable populations, and increasing the number of family nurse practitioners who seek employment in the region after graduation.

“D.N.P. students have to do a lot of practicum hours getting the hands-on experience of interviewing, diagnosing, treating, and following up with patients,” Huffer said. “We can place our family nurse practitioner students in these centers for their practicum so they can become well versed in dealing with some of the unique problems of populations such as migrant workers, immigrants, low income patients, and those who fall through the healthcare system cracks.”

“The region faces some of the toughest healthcare challenges and, with a shortage of providers, this grant will assist with the recruitment of advanced practice students by providing much-needed scholarships and stipends,” Mailey said. “The grant will pay for two years of academic expenses while D.N.P. students work in the rural clinics.”

Originally from Shepherd University Communications