Loyola University Chicago

Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing


Aid for underserved communities

Aid for underserved communities

By Maura Sullivan Hill

In another demonstration of commitment to Jesuit values, Niehoff is focused on providing exceptional health care for the poor and marginalized. Many people living in rural and underserved communities do not have access to much-needed primary care and mental health services. Without this type of care, chronic health problems—like diabetes or high blood pressure—can be fatal when they otherwise would not be.

Across the country, nearly 5,700 geographic areas have a shortage of primary care professionals. That means that the 58 million residents in those areas aren’t getting the annual checkups and mental health exams they need to stay healthy. Jenny O’Rourke, PhD, APN-BC, CHSE, associate dean of graduate programs at Niehoff, wants to change that, and make sure that everyone has access to the same quality of care. In support of these efforts, O’Rourke and the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing received a grant of
$1.4 million over two years from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

This two-year Advanced Nursing Education Workforce Grant will enable O’Rourke to further develop her Mental Health: Providing Access to Health (M-PATH) project, which will educate more primary care nurse practitioners.

“This funding will really give us the resources we need to help our nurse practitioners provide care in geographical areas that don’t have a lot of primary care options,” she says. “It also helps us build relationships with preceptors and the organizations they’re associated with, to give students more options.”

Students enrolled in this program will receive scholarship funding, in light of their commitment to serving the vulnerable populations. The grant will partner nurse practitioner students in training at local sites, including the Hines VA and Proviso School-Based Health Center in Maywood, Cook County Health and Hospital Systems, and Trinity Health System. Students will also have the opportunity to work with nurse practitioners in the Appalachian Regional Health System in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.

This grant will also help Loyola increase the number of nurse preceptors, who act as teachers and resources to students in the clinical environment. Expanding the already robust network of preceptors within the city and surrounding area to include more rural areas and out-of-state facilities will provide students with a variety of career options when they graduate. “Because these areas have such a high-need level, the connections made between students and preceptors can help them get jobs and serve these communities even further after graduation,” O’Rourke says.

In addition to these varied clinical experiences, the grant will also allow Loyola to launch a mental health nurse practitioner program. In 2016, 82 percent of Niehoff students surveyed indicated that they would be interested in a psych-mental health nurse practitioner program. And 47 percent asked for more mental health classes within the primary care program.

In implementing these types of programs, Loyola will be ahead of the curve once again—and meeting a desperate need. In Illinois, less than 5 percent of working registered nurses are trained to treat mental health issues and nationally, only 5 percent of nurse practitioners are certified in psych-mental health.

Embracing technology

O’Rourke is also hoping that this grant will be able to kick-start some telehealth training within Niehoff. Telehealth involves diagnosing and treating patients over a video feed and monitoring health data via smartphone technology. It’s a treatment method that is becoming more common in rural communities, to account for the lack of primary care services or the distance to care providers.

And it also has benefits for Loyola students, especially those in the online ABSN program. Utilizing telehealth will not only better educate Loyola students but also provide increased opportunities for simulation exercises. “This is something we want to implement for our students, and now we have some resources to start doing so,” says O’Rourke.

Together, these new Niehoff initiatives will meet student needs and, in turn, educate better nurses that will meet patient needs. CHOIR, the hybrid ABSN, and the funding for more primary care and mental health training will keep Niehoff students on the cutting edge of medicine, while still staying true to Loyola’s Jesuit identity. Tomorrow’s Niehoff graduates will be prepared to serve marginalized populations and find data-driven solutions that will make health care both more affordable and more efficient.