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St. Luke’s announces financial aid program for graduating nursing students
Mount Mercy students offered financial aid, sign-on bonus
CEDAR RAPIDS — UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital has joined with a Cedar Rapids-based nursing school to create a new program that will offer nursing students financial aid in exchange for future employment.
The Cedar Rapids hospital announced the new partnership with Mount Mercy University earlier this week as part of its efforts to fill open positions in the midst of the ongoing nursing shortage, which has affected health care organizations in Iowa and across the nation.
The Senior Promise Program was developed in response to students’ need for financial stability as they start their careers, said Carmen Kleinsmith, UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's senior vice president and chief nurse executive.
“If there are opportunities to get some of their loans paid off sooner rather than later, that creates great relief on their part,” Kleinsmith said. “We want to meet them where they are at, so we are looking at ways to create opportunity for them to feel they can get that financial stability, get that flexibility and ideally, work and grow their career.
“Hopefully they feel they have a home (at St. Luke’s) for a while and feel supported while they start their career.”
The Senior Promise Program is available to Mount Mercy nursing students who will graduate in 2022 or 2023. Once selected, students will receive financial support that covers their remaining out-of-pocket tuition costs and costs of other fees, such as books, for their final two semesters.
In addition, students will receive a sign-on bonus once they start work in inpatient nursing units or float pools that St. Luke’s officials have identified as areas with the greatest staffing needs. Those units include critical care, adult acute care, behavioral health, inpatient rehabilitation, the emergency department and the operating rooms.
Both the financial aid and sign-on bonus will be forgiven if the student works at least 18 months as a registered nurse within the hospital.
So far, 15 senior nursing students have applied for or expressed interest in the program, all of whom will graduate in May, August or December of this year, Mount Mercy officials said.
That includes Grace Herring, a 21-year-old from Palo, who will graduate in May.
Seeing nurses become burned out throughout the course of the pandemic has been discouraging for students such as Herring, who said she even questioned her career choice some days.
“But having that encouragement from St. Luke’s, and them saying, ‘you’re going to be taken care of and you’re going to be successful’ means a lot,” she said.
“You know when things get better in a few years, it’s going to be really good. We’re in a good spot.”
In addition, the financial assistance from the program is “a huge relief,” said Rebecca Francois, another senior nursing student accepted into the program.
“Having that financial security, even if the student loans are still so much more, it helps,” said Francois, 22, of Rosemount, Minn. “It puts a dent in what you’re paying back for the tuition and it’s just a huge relief.”
Both Herring and Francois currently are working part-time at St. Luke’s in the emergency department and medical surgical units respectively.
The pair already had accepted offers for full-time nursing positions in the emergency department after graduation and were grandfathered into the program after it was announced, they said.
The partnership with St. Luke’s is built on an existing relationship between the two institutions, said Todd Olson, president of Mount Mercy University. Several nursing students complete their clinical training at the Cedar Rapids hospital each year, and many go on to accept jobs there after graduation.
The need for a pipeline of potential employees is not new, but partnerships such as the one recently formed with St. Luke’s have a new urgency in the post-pandemic reality in Iowa, Olson said. More higher education institutions, both in Iowa and across the country, are seeing a desire from employers to form closer relationships to help their recruitment and retention efforts.
“It’s a particularly turbulent time,” he said. “What has come out of this is a particular urgency around strengthening partnerships at this time.”
This is the second Cedar Rapids-based employer partnership announced at the Mount Mercy nursing program this year.
Mount Mercy last month announced a similar partnership with Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, called the MercyReady Nursing Education Assistance Program. Nursing students accepted into the program are given financial assistance and part-time hospital jobs and, in exchange, these students agree to work at Mercy Medical as a full-time nurse for at least two years.
A 2020 workforce demand survey by Iowa Workforce Development and the Iowa Board of Nursing reported nearly 60 percent of health care facilities statewide were experiencing a shortage of qualified applicants for open nursing jobs. Of those, about 19 percent reported an “extreme” shortage and roughly 36 percent noted a “great” shortage.
The majority of Mount Mercy graduates stay to work in the Corridor, according to Olson, but Mount Mercy officials hope programs such as these will raise that total, he said.
“We believe it will have a meaningful impact,” Olson said. “It’s still early in the process, so we don’t know exactly, but we are very optimistic.”
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