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WesternU receives state funding to assist underserved communities

by Rodney Tanaka

February 20, 2014

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Two Western University of Health Sciences programs received about $260,000 in state funding to increase the number of family practitioners in medically underserved areas.

WesternU’s College of Graduate Nursing received about $182,000 and the Department of Physician Assistant Education, part of the College of Allied Health Professions, received about $81,000 from the Song-Brown Health Care Workforce Training Act.

California created the Song-Brown Program in 1973 to increase the number of family practitioners providing needed medical services to the California population. The program encourages universities and primary care health professionals to provide health care in medically underserved areas and provides financial support to family practice residency, family nurse practitioner, physician assistant and registered nurse education programs throughout California.

The College of Graduate Nursing, which received $181, 976, has a two-pronged approach to fulfill these goals. The college will offer 10 student stipends of $10,000 each to support racial/ethnic or economically disadvantaged students from medically underserved areas and rural, frontier and inner city areas with unmet needs, said Diana Lithgow, PhD, RN, FNP, College of Graduate Nursing Assistant Dean of Distance Education and Director of the DNP/MSN/FNP Programs.

The remaining $81,976 will fund a new position — clinical partner outreach coordinator — who will develop clinical training sites for CGN students by connecting with community partners, hospitals and health systems in areas of unmet need.

“If students are from those areas and do rotations in that area that is serving the underserved, they will stay in those areas to practice upon graduation,” Lithgow said.

CGN is a pioneer in distance learning, which allows nurses to continue working in their rural home area while earning an advanced degree. All Family Nurse Practitioner students are counseled to select employment in a primary care and/or vulnerable population setting for their first five years of practice in order to augment skills gained in training. Nearly 80 percent of the FNP graduates of the past two years for whom employment information is available are practicing in underserved communities.

The Department of Physician Assistant Education received $81,242. The PA department had received Song-Brown funding in the past, but not in recent years.

“More of our alumni are going to areas of unmet need such as central California,” said Department of Physician Assistant Education Chair Roy Guizado, MS, PA-C. “More graduates are going into the inner city areas.”

The money will be used to help second-year students prepare for their Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. Students will enroll in an online review and participate in online lectures. The grant will also allow for students to receive two board review books and tutoring for first- and second-year students who may need extra help in the program, Guizado said.

“We need to make sure our underrepresented minority population is still representative of the area, and we are placing students in underrepresented areas,” he said.

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