WellCare Announces $80,000 in College of Nursing Scholarships Aimed at Improving Rural Health

Posted: June 9, 2017

Recognizing the need for quality primary care in rural areas of the Commonwealth, WellCare of Kentucky, a subsidiary of WellCare Health Plans, Inc. will provide $80,000 to fund scholarships for the University of Kentucky College of Nursing aimed at increasing the number of nurses working in primary medicine and psychiatry in Eastern Kentucky.

WellCare, in conjunction with the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and College of Nursing, will fund up to 30 scholarships valued at $180,000 for medical and nursing students at various stages of their studies.

“We know that access to doctors, nurses and other health care providers directly affects health outcomes,” said Bill Jones, president, WellCare of Kentucky. “When health care is in short supply or located far away, people are less likely to get routine screenings, tests and vaccinations – the type of care that can catch problems early or even prevent illness altogether. Anything we can do to encourage more providers to locate in underserved areas will be a direct benefit to the health of our state.”

Despite the importance of primary and psychiatric care, communities in rural Kentucky, particularly in the eastern part of the state, have struggled to attract and retain an adequate number of primary care providers – both doctors and advanced practice nurses.

Sheila Melander, PhD, APRN, ACNP-BC, FCCM, FAANP, professor and assistant dean of graduate faculty affairs at the College of Nursing, is grateful for the support of WellCare Foundation, and believes the future of nursing in Eastern Kentucky is bright.

“WellCare’s funding will help close the health care provider gap in Eastern Kentucky,” says Dr. Melander. "This will significantly help our efforts in growing the nursing workforce and providing quality care to Kentuckians."

The funding will cover up to 10 $8,000 per-semester scholarships for students in the Doctorate in Nursing Practice Program, which focuses on preparing graduates to lead at the highest clinical and executive ranks. These scholarships will be awarded to nurses who plan on practicing in primary medicine or behavioral health in rural Kentucky.

“We are pleased to see a financial incentive like this that will encourage medical and nursing students to think about the impact they can make on a community that needs their skills,” said Frances Feltner, director of the University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health. “We will be following the results of this program carefully to measure its success in encouraging more medical professionals to build their careers in Eastern Kentucky.”

Medical residents currently training in Eastern Kentucky say immersion in the local communities is a crucial component of preparing for a career in rural communities.

“Students interested in becoming health care providers in rural areas must receive medical training in rural communities,” said Jordan Adams, a University of Pikeville medical school graduate and medical resident in Hazard, Kentucky. “Many socioeconomic issues are distinct to these areas and directly affect health. These include critical access to facilities and support systems including transportation, lack of education and employment opportunities, and economic disadvantages of practicing in areas of high poverty and unemployment.”

Sharon Hunsucker, the first Ph.D. graduate of the UK College of Nursing’s Occupational and Environmental Health Nurse (OEHN) Ph.D. Training Program, said that programs that give doctors and nurses more rural experience will improve lives and even the regional economy.

“It is my hope to give a voice to and increase awareness of worker health in rural areas to improve health and quality of life, decreasing disability in rural areas and improving the social and economic wellbeing of communities by identifying ways to ensure a healthier rural workforce,” Hunsucker said.