FARGO — The School of Nursing at North Dakota State University is receiving a $1.57 million federal grant award to help educate future health care professionals who serve rural areas.

The award will make possible a nurse practitioner residency/fellowship program for new graduates. NDSU and Essentia Health are partnering to develop the program for nurse practitioners working in rural clinics.

The Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is providing the funds over four years to create the residency program.

“Highly prepared nurse practitioners that are able to function at the highest scope of practice benefit rural patients and communities,” said Mykell Barnacle, assistant professor of nursing practice at NDSU, who heads the team developing the program, along with Dean Gross, assistant professor of nursing practice.

“Rural nurse practitioners often see a wide range of conditions and complexity, as well as perform many procedures that are not as common in urban primary care,” explained Barnacle. “This type of care is often practiced without the benefit of in-office colleagues or easy access to specialists. The program will also allow new nurse practitioners to network with regional colleagues, specialists, and administration partners.”

Those developing the program hope to provide nurse practitioners support through the residency, thus increasing job satisfaction and retention in the rural communities they serve. The first group of newly graduated family nurse practitioners to begin their residency will start in fall 2019.

The program will emphasize enhanced rural clinical readiness and medication-assisted treatment, mental health offerings with special focus on opioid misuse, emergency care skills, childhood obesity and telehealth.

“Essentia Health values the important role nurse practitioners play in our ability to provide the necessary access our patients need, particularly in the rural areas of our service area,” said Richard Vetter, M.D., Essentia Health-West’s chief medical officer. “Better health outcomes are directly related to timely access, and patients appreciate getting their care close to home.”