US News Editor Lori Ponoroff discusses national and state government and private organizations and corporations funding to encourage the pursuit of nursing as a career 

Group tour sponsored by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in the University of Maryland simulation labs. Image Credit: American Association of Colleges of Nursing's Graduate Student Academy.
Group tour sponsored by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in the University of Maryland simulation labs.Image Credit: American Association of Colleges of Nursing's Graduate Student Academy.

 

Attracting more young people to enter a nursing career is one small step to help fix the nursing shortage, but for many it is a huge financial leap. That’s why national and state governments, professional associations, colleges and corporations are offering scholarships, grants and loan repayment programs to make it easier to get everything from entry-level to doctoral nursing degrees.

So many entities offering financial aid packages for nursing mean there are more opportunities for the increasing numbers looking to nursing as a career. In fact, a New England Journal of Medicine article published in April 2013, says there has been a remarkable growth of interest in the nursing profession since 2002 and a study published in the December 2011 Journal of Health Affairs reported the number of young people entering the nursing profession is surging, providing relief from the recent nursing shortage. The study found aggressive efforts to make nursing a more attractive career choice contributed to a 62 percent increase in the number of young nurses (ages 23-26) who entered the field between 2002 and 2009.

Those who want to become nurses, and nurses looking to advance their education and careers can look for assistance in their own countries with internet searches of their federal governments, local universities and multiple scholarship websites. They can also look abroad, with help from groups like the Australian Agency for International Development and the Global Scholarship Alliance in the United States and the Philippines – and from individual universities like the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom.

Scores of nursing scholarships are available for UK citizens through individual universities and from the UK’s Commonwealth Scholarship Commission that offers scholarships through schools in more than 50 countries (outside of the US) for master’s degrees, many of which are for medical or public health studies.

In Canada, The Canadian Nurses Foundation grants more than $275,000 annually to nurses and nursing students in all areas of nursing practice – and at all educational levels. The Nursing School Canadian Guide gives links to a handful of scholarships like one of its own that is given in conjunction with Sigma Theta Tau International/Canadian Nurses Foundation. It’s an annual, $5,000 grant for licensed, practicing Canadian registered nurses to do research on nursing care or clinical nursing.

Australia offers a wide variety of nursing scholarship opportunities such as government grants and scholarships for everything from undergraduate and graduate work to re-entry and midwifery. Its military has options, too, like the Australian Defence Force University Sponsorship with a range of benefits such as a salary while studying; paid student fees, free medical and dental care – and a guaranteed entry-level job as an officer in the Navy, Army or Air Force. Professional associations like the Australian College of Nurses and individual schools like the University of Sydney join in with their own financial aid packages.

A University of Maryland PhD nursing student. Image Credit: University of Maryland School of Nursing.
A University of Maryland PhD nursing student.Image Credit: University of Maryland School of Nursing.

Many other countries have nursing scholarships available for their countrymen, like Germany, India, Israel and Morocco. In the US, companies, universities, nursing associations, the military and government agencies work in tandem and independently to offer hundreds of nursing scholarships and grants. Federal and state-government sponsored programs address the need for qualified nurses by underwriting the education of future professionals through grants and scholarships – or arrangements that trade financial assistance for service in a government entity. The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) offers a selection of both for US citizens, nationals or lawful permanent residents through these programs:

  • Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students grants participating colleges money they distribute among qualified students pursuing post-secondary education in enrolled in nursing or other health-profession programs. Grant money is made available to enrolled, full-time, financially needy students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • The Nurse Faculty Loan Program (FLP) provides funding to participating nursing schools to help establish and operate an NFLP loan fund they use for loans to assist registered nurses in completing their graduate education to become nurse faculty. The program offers partial loan forgiveness to borrowers who graduate and serve as full-time nursing faculty for a prescribed period of time – where loan recipients can cancel 85 percent of the loan over four years in return for serving as faculty in any accredited school of nursing.
  • The NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program for nurse faculty also requires participants to work as nurse faculty at an accredited public or private non-profit school of nursing. Preference is given to applicants who work at nursing schools where at least half of enrolled students come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • NURSE Corps Scholarship Program helps full-time students accepted or enrolled in diploma, associate, baccalaureate or graduate nursing programs – including RN to BSN Bridge Programs. These students can receive funding for tuition, fees and other educational costs in exchange for working at an eligible Critical Shortage Facility upon graduation; the program guarantees them a job and helps the country stem the nursing shortage.
  • NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program lets registered nurses care for people in some of America's neediest communities and help build healthy communities in poor urban and rural areas as they build their careers. Registered Nurses and advanced-practice RNs must agree to work for at least two years at Critical Shortage Facilities, and in exchange, the government will pay 60 percent of any outstanding nursing-related student loans. Participants can earn 25 percent additional loan repayment for another year of service – for a total of 85 percent of his or her outstanding nursing student loans.
Last year, the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program received more than 4,300 eligible applications and awarded $38 million through 500 awards to RNs working at Critical Shortage Facilities and more than 125 awards to nurse faculty at eligible nursing schools.

The Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program, also administered through the US Department of Health and Human Services, helps nurses and other health professionals pay off student loans in exchange for at least two years of full-time practice at HIS-funded Indian health programs that serve American Indian or Alaska Native communities. They can qualify for up to $20,000 of qualified student loan repayment for each year of service.

Military Nurses

For those considering joining the US military, already have or have served honorably in the past, there are multiple scholarships, grants and programs available to help pay for the schooling needed to start a nursing career.

All US military branches have scholarship opportunities, starting with ROTC scholarships from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines. These three- to four-year scholarships cover costs such as tuition, fees, books and monthly living expenses. After graduating from college, students are commissioned as officers and required to serve four years of active duty and four years in the inactive ready reserve.

“Military nurses play a vital role in treating service members and their families all over the globe and including the battlefield,” according to Lieutenant Commander Nate Christiansen, US Defense Department spokesman. “They are no different than civilian nurses as they administer medication, treat wounds, and care for the sick across the spectrum of patient care.” The military ROTC scholarships play a vital role in insuring the military is able to recruit and sustain the country’s volunteer forces for a variety of jobs they need filled, including nursing, said Christiansen.

The defense forces also offer Nurse Candidate Programs for those already pursuing a nursing career and Enlisted Commissioning Programs and Nurse Corps Programs for those already enlisted.

Active duty service members also are eligible for Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD) or Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) benefits and veterans can look into the Post-9/11 GI Bill that provides up to 36 months of education benefits, generally payable for 15 years following release from active duty. Institutions of higher learning participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program can make additional funds available – and the VA matches that amount and issues payments directly to the institution.

Applying

The first step for any US student applying for financial aid is to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as it plays a huge role in determining eligibility for grants and scholarships – especially for those based on financial need. It is the source that determines a student’s eligibility for all federal student loans and state-supported student loan forgiveness programs. Banks and other private lending organizations use the FAFSA information to help decide a student’s eligibility for alternative loans.

No matter what kind of help a student is looking for, there are volumes of information and links to other kinds of scholarships available on independent sites like Nursing Scholarship.us and College Scholarships.org, association sites like the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, and corporate sites like Johnson & Johnson (J&J), as part of its Campaign for Nursing’s Future.

The J&J site offers suggestions about how to get started in a nursing career for everyone from high-school students to students already in college looking to change majors – and those interested in nursing as a second career. It has links to 369 nursing scholarships and more than 2,000 nursing schools, many of which offer their own financial aid programs through help from their home states or through professional associations. Companies and professional associations often provide their own scholarships, or partner to offer funds.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), for example, partners with business to offer scholarships like the Minority Nurse Faculty Scholarship with support from the J&J Campaign for Nursing’s Future. The AACN actively seeks opportunities to partner with corporate sponsors and other stakeholders to offer scholarship programs for nursing students in baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral programs like the AfterCollege-AACN Scholarship Fund – and others, including the Hurst Reviews/AACN Nursing Scholarship that recognizes and rewards outstanding students in pre-licensure nursing programs.

The AACN works with The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) on the RWJF New Careers in Nursing Scholarship Program designed to alleviate the nation’s nursing shortage by expanding the pipeline of students in accelerated baccalaureate and master's nursing programs. This year, in the fourth round of funding, up to $10,000 scholarships will be awarded to up to 400 entry-level nursing students – with preference given to students from groups underrepresented in nursing or from a disadvantaged background.

This fall, the AACN is launching a new scholarship program with long-time partner CertifiedBackground.com that is open exclusively to nursing students in master’s and doctoral programs that are members of AACN’s Graduate Nursing Student Academy (GNSA). Four $2,500 scholarships will be available each year over the next five years to students in good standing who have distinguished themselves in the area of innovation, leadership and/or peer mentoring. CertifiedBackground.com also renewed its $200,000 commitment to the CertifiedBackground.com/AACN Scholarship program that will give scholarships over the next five years to students in undergraduate and graduate nursing programs.

Nursing and nursing education are at a critical juncture, according to AACN President Eileen T. Breslin, PhD, RN, FAAN, who says “As the leading voice for professional nursing education, AACN will continue to use its national platform to advocate for more scholarship funding, support programs, and federal resources to assist schools of nursing with their efforts to remove financial barriers to nursing education and faculty careers for all populations in need.”

Another group, The National League for Nursing (NLN), sees its job as making sure it is bringing new nurses into the faculty arena, according to its CEO, Dr. Beverly Malone, who says too many qualified applicants are turned away from nursing schools each year that don’t have the clinical space or teachers to teach them. So the NLN offers its Nursing Education Research Grants annually to individual members and faculty of NLN member schools, and the NLN Foundation for Nursing Education awards scholarships to three outstanding nurse educators currently enrolled in accredited master's or doctoral programs related to nursing education – all of this to attract seasoned and ethnically diverse nurses to nursing education by making the pursuit of advanced degrees more affordable.

State associations give scholarships in their own cities, like the Florida Nurses Foundation (FNF) that offers 17 scholarships to students enrolled in nationally accredited nursing programs in Florida, and several local districts of the Texas Nurses Association that fund-raise and grant their own student nurse scholarships. State governments get in on the action, too, like California, which offers a host of scholarship and loan repayment programs. Some states have programs that offer loan forgiveness for nursing faculty or have proposed legislation to provide funding assistance to nurse educators. Others help their schools offer scholarships through programs like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) program that has distributed more than 3,500 scholarships to students at 130 schools of nursing since 2008 – and this year granted funding for 400 scholarships at 52 schools.

The NCIN program has made great strides in helping nursing schools recruit and retain diverse students in competitive and rigorous accelerated degree programs, according to David Krol, MD, MPH, FAAP, a RWJF senior program officer. It’s just one of more than a dozen RWJF programs working to increase the number of nurses with BSN degrees and higher to meet the nation’s health care needs.

It’s also a great example of national organizations working to make a difference in the nursing shortage, in part through helping nurses and nurses-to-be advance their education, and in other ways, too, such as helping nurses build leadership skills, expanding the scope of practice of nurse practitioners and advancing interprofessional collaboration with other kinds of health professionals. Great fodder for MEdSim’s next installment on “Fixing the Nursing Shortage.”