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Alaska Pacific University poised to expand nursing program, thanks to U.S. Department of Labor grant


Alaska Pacific University poised to expand nursing program, thanks to U.S. Department of Labor grant

Jun 01, 2023 | 9:00 am ET
By Yereth Rosen
Alaska Pacific University poised to expand nursing program, thanks to U.S. Department of Labor grant
The Atwood Center at the Alaska Pacific University campus is seen on April 24. A U.S. Department of Labor grant of nearly $3 million will be used to vastly expand the university's nursing program. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

A federal grant of nearly $3 million over five years will enable Alaska Pacific University to vastly expand its nursing-education programs, the university announced on Wednesday.

The grant, from the U.S. Department of Labor, was one of 25 given to public-private partnerships across the nation to expand nursing training, APU said.

While the entire nation is struggling with nursing shortages, Alaska’s situation is particularly dire. A 2022 report by the Alaska Hospital and Healthcare Association found that Alaska has the nation’s lowest prevalence of licensed practical nurses. The report also found that 1,500 new registered nurses are needed annually in Alaska, putting that category at the top of the state’s health worker needs.

The shortage “was the driving factor in our application for the grant,” said Marianne Murray, a professor who is APU’s director of nursing. “The purpose of the grant is to expand and diversify the nursing profession in Alaska,” she said.

The grant money is going largely to hiring faculty to teach nursing at all the levels of instruction at the university. APU has programs for licensed practical nursing, an associate degree program for registered nurses and a bachelor’s degree program for registered nurses.

Nursing education is relatively new at APU. The associate-degree registered nursing program started in 2020 and graduated 38 students over two years, while the licensed practical nurse program is even newer, starting in 2021, and graduating nine students, Murray said.

But with the federal grant, APU is hoping to graduate about 200 new associate-degree-holding nurses and 160 new licensed practical nurses over the next five years, as well as helping 40 to 50 nurses advance from associate degrees to more comprehensive bachelor’s degrees, she said.

APU stands out for the geographic spread of its relatively new nursing programs. Its licensed practical nursing, currently the only program of its kind in the state, operates in Bethel, Fairbanks and Juneau, and expansions to Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are on the way. The university has established nursing-education partnerships with Yuut Elitnaurviat and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. in Bethel, Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau and Mat-Su Regional Medical Center in Palmer, among other facilities.

Training nurses in different parts of the state is an important element of APU’s overall program, Murray said. “Part of our mission is to be able to teach students where they live and to be able to stay there,” she said.

Also important to the program is its emphasis on care that is appropriate for the various cultures of patients around Alaska. “We focus on the cultural dimensions where people live their lives,” Murray said. For example, the nursing programs include a prerequisite course called “Culturally Safe Health Care,” she said.

Aside from enabling the hiring of new nursing faculty, the federal grant will be used for other purposes, Murray said.

It will be used to develop a bridge program for licensed practical nurses seeking to become registered nurses, help establish an Alaska Nursing Workforce and Education Consortium through which nurses will be able to learn about teaching opportunities, and fund a small stipend program to help nursing students with costs like licensure fees, Murray said. The grant will also be used for student support.

“Nursing programs can be stressful for a student,” she said. “It’s always helpful to have student support for success and completion.”

APU is not the only Alaska educational institution expanding its nursing programs.

In February, the University of Alaska Board of Regents approved a new licensed practical nursing program that will be operated through the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Before then, in December of 2021, the University of Alaska Anchorage’s College of Health received a $2.1 million state grant to help with recruitment and retention of nursing faculty.