Nursing program receives residency grant

College of Nursing receives $1 million grant to go toward new program. Photo by Amanda Frank/

The College of Nursing recently received a three-year, $1 million grant to develop an evidence-based residency program for new, rural nurses in Wisconsin, Illinois and Idaho.

Marquette announced last week that the Division of Nursing in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the college the grant, which totals $1,033,118 million.

The SOAR-RN program, (Supporting Onboarding and Retention of Rural Nurses), will aid in the transition of new nurses into rural hospitals during the first 15 months of practice. It will also entail a yearlong residency program curriculum and training for educators, mentors and preceptors.

Dr. Marilyn Meyer Bratt, assistant professor of nursing at Marquette, applied for the grant and serves as its primary investigator. She said the first nurses will partake in the program this summer.

Bratt said the transition to practicing, especially in rural hospitals, can be difficult and students need support.

“(Marquette nursing students) will see results in that practicing in rural areas is a viable option for them,” Bratt said.

She said this program is in line with Marquette’s mission to “address the needs of vulnerable populations,” and that it would give the nurses a competitive edge in rural hospitals because they have bachelor’s degrees.

She said some students may not consider it, but some may find a good residency program in a rural setting.

Bratt said she has experience with rural nurses and their challenges – because she was one – shortly after getting her degree.

“I remember all too well what it was like to be a rural nurse as a new graduate,” she said.

Bratt said she applied for the grant so new rural nurses would not have the same struggles she had starting out.

She said nurses in rural hospitals have a unique requirement: they must generalize their nursing ability. For instance, a nurse at a rural hospital could go straight from helping a woman in labor to caring for a cancer patient. Bratt said care is more specialized in urban hospitals.

The Ministry Health Care system in Wisconsin and Minnesota, Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network and Rural Connection in Idaho partnered together to create the program. Marquette’s College of Nursing is also joined by the Illinois State University Mennonite College of Nursing and Boise State University as academic partners.

Sandi Van Den Heuvel, the project coordinator, said many nurses go to college in urban settings and stay there for residency.

“Rural healthcare just isn’t funded like urban healthcare,” Van Den Heuvel said. “These nurses are trained just as well as a nurse in an urban setting.”

She also said interested students should look into human resource programs at their respective colleges to see if a rural residency program is offered.

Buffie Main, the Rural Connection executive director, said the partner states had “commonalities” in rural nursing. The three partner states have been working together on the program for about five years, she said.

“We have the opportunity to look at collaborative data from three separate states on rural nursing,” Main said.

She said this funding provides an opportunity to build a very solid foundation so that they have the tools to run the program when the grant runs out.