$10M funding available for graduate nursing students willing to teach post-grad

MUSC College of Nursing leaders and students hope the program will combat the nursing shortage and the nursing educator shortage.
Published: Aug. 25, 2023 at 4:46 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 25, 2023 at 7:40 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - In the 2023 session, South Carolina lawmakers authorized $10 million dollars of state funding for student-debt forgiveness for graduate-level nurses who go on to teach in the state.

MUSC College of Nursing leaders and students hope the program will combat the nursing shortage and the nursing educator shortage.

Dr. Cathy Durham, the Assistant Dean of the Graduate Practice Program says nurses pursue a higher degree for many different reasons. She wanted to go into primary care to help people regularly and prevent them from ending up in the ICU.

“It’s going to increase the number of nurses who can go to school and who will then graduate and be advanced practice providers. We are an advanced primary care-focused program and we have a lack of primary care providers in South Carolina. So enticing students to come to these schools that offer these programs will ensure that we are directly contributing to the workforce that is absolutely necessary to help the residents of our state,” Durham says.

The program offers financial assistance to nursing students in graduate-level nursing programs who are willing to become nursing staff in the state. Their tuition can be forgiven between $30,000 to $90,000 depending on their degree and how long they teach. Following graduation, program participants must agree to serve two years as nursing faculty within the state for every one year of tuition reimbursement they receive.

“Also, we can graduate passionate healthcare providers who want to go into the teaching workforce. And so that also helps feed what we already know is that there is a shortage of nursing faculty,” Durham says.

For current graduate students, like Ph.D. student Yulia Lopez, this program is good news.

“They go into degree very much consciously, and we have to weigh all the outcomes and all the sacrifices we have to make and in terms of time, finances, time with families. Because most of us, we have families children, full-time jobs that we cannot quit because we can’t afford it yet. So it means a lot to us. Every single help every single scholarship we can get. It’s a huge help,” Lopez says.

She is pursuing her Ph.D. in nursing because she says it gives her more opportunities to positively impact the world of healthcare.

“When we graduated and started working actually in the field, you know, you start thinking about your work environment and think about if you want to change something and the best way is to go back to school, get a degree and have a power of change,” Lopez says.

The participants must work, even part-time, as nursing staff at an educational institution to earn their debt forgiveness. They will be a part of educating future nurses who continue to serve the patients of the state. Lopez and Durham see this loop as a sustainable way to solve many challenges including staffing needs and student affordability.

“This is pretty much the roots of nursing when we support the education and further educators, we support the future of nursing,” Lopez says.

Undergraduate nurses, Lily Frain and Polina O’Brien say hearing about the opportunities for financial help is encouraging. O’Brien says she has always wanted to pursue teaching and nursing so the program feels perfect for her to manage her student debt and career.

“I wanted to teach when I was in high school, but I knew I wanted to do something medical. So I thought being a nurse for a little bit and then being a teacher. I think they shape the minds of who they are teaching and it excels their brain kind of until they prepare them for the outside world,” O’Brien says.

Frain says the option to teach, even part-time while practicing, is just another option she is going to consider for her future.

“I don’t think it’s so much of a catch that we have to say in South Carolina. I’m born and raised from Charleston. I absolutely love this city. I would stay here probably my whole life. So I can’t complain about being told I have to stay here in South Carolina,” Frain says.

College of Nursing leaders say many of their faculty members also work at a practice, so they are able to use their degree for education and for healthcare.

“It’s going to be life-changing,” Druham says. She looks forward to seeing how students put this program to use to help enhance their careers.