A $2.6 million grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has been awarded to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga School of Nursing program to prepare advanced practice nurses to meet the needs of rural and underserved communities in the Chattanooga region.
Dr. Amber Roaché, assistant professor and coordinator of the UTC Nurse Practitioner concentration, is the principal investigator—landing a four-year grant through the HRSA Advanced Nursing Education Workforce Program (ANEW) for the project titled “Clinical-Academic Partnerships: Breaking Down Barriers to Care.”
Overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HRSA is the primary federal agency for improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, geographically isolated and economically or medically vulnerable.
“The focus with this grant is looking at the rural and underserved areas in this region and meet those patients where they are while making sure our students are practice-ready to be able to go into those areas straight after graduation,” Roaché said. “We’ll be able to do simulation and help prepare students for different clinical situations that might occur—such as providing difficult news to a patient or talking about domestic abuse—as well as work with homeless populations or those who have reduced access to care.”
An essential component of the HRSA ANEW grant is that UTC family nurse practitioner (FNP) students will be offered funding for traineeships and support practice readiness upon graduation through long-term clinical placements and online and in-person simulation experiences. Each semester of their program, the students—pursuing Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees—will receive approximately $8,500.
“Thanks to this grant, it will be very nice for us to be able to say, ‘If you come here to UTC, not only are you going to be practice-ready with what we’re able to do by providing these clinical placements, but also we’re going to help fund your education,’” Roaché said. “That becomes a huge relief for many FNP students who are either first-time college students or taking out a lot of student loans.”
An FNP is an advanced practice nurse specializing in providing primary health care services to patients of all ages. FNPs maintain patient records, perform physical exams, order or perform diagnostic tests, prescribe medications, develop treatment plans, and treat acute and chronic illnesses, conditions and injuries that fall under primary care.
FNPs have long been in demand, but a recent shortage of family practice physicians has increased the number of primary care positions that FNPs are filling—particularly in rural and underserved populations.
“Breaking Down Barriers to Care” will address the health care needs of those specific southeast Tennessee populations, a region with historically poor health outcomes.
“In this region, chronic conditions associated with the social determinants of health disproportionately affect vulnerable groups,” she explained. “This project expands an innovative academic-practice partnership model that will improve practice-readiness for our FNP students.”
The new grant aims to increase the number of nurse practitioners trained to serve rural, urban and tribal underserved populations while “increasing the diversity of the nursing workforce to better address the needs of the populations they serve,” she said. “This can be attained by recruiting students and faculty from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds.”
To accomplish that goal, Roaché said the nurse practitioner program will recruit and prepare new preceptors—experienced licensed clinicians acting as teachers and coaches supervising nursing students during their clinical rotations—and promote continuing education with established preceptors.
Roaché, whose primary teaching responsibilities are in the graduate programs, has been the UTC nurse practitioner program coordinator since 2018. She previously worked for the University from 2007 to 2012, teaching in the undergraduate and graduate programs and spending two days a week as a practicing FNP in a community clinic serving underserved populations.
Between her two stints at UTC, she taught in the doctoral, graduate and undergraduate nursing programs at King University in Knoxville, Tennessee—where she also served for two years as associate dean of graduate programs.
Roaché earned four degrees from UTC, including bachelor’s degrees in biology and nursing, a master’s of nursing degree (family nurse practitioner concentration) and a DNP.