By Chris LaPage
Along with the changing colors of the leaves, Autumn brings with it the release of several health professional education grants. These grants, offered through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), are meant to overcome health professional shortages in urban, rural and medically underserved areas. These grants are usually led by an appropriate institution of higher education (IHE) in partnership with healthcare facilities that serve as clinical rotation sites for students. The following is a primer on what funding opportunities we are expecting to open soon as well as a few tips for developing a competitive proposal.
The Slate -Nursing
· Nurse Education, Practice, Quality and Retention Grants (NEPQR) – These grants tend to focus on moving students and currently practicing nurses up to the registered nurse (RN) level, and preferably into Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. The solicitation is typically released in the Autumn and is due in February or March.
· Advanced Nursing Education Workforce Program (ANEW) – These grants support academic clinical partnerships to educate and graduate advanced practicing nurses, such as primary care Nurse Practitioners (NP), clinical nurse specialists (CNS) and nurse midwives (NM). The solicitation is typically released in the Autumn with a late December or early January application deadline.
· Nursing Workforce Diversity (NWD) - The overall purpose of the NWD program is to increase nursing education opportunities for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, including ethnic and racial minorities who are underrepresented among registered nurses. This program also includes a trainee component as a portion of the funding must be used for student financial support. The NWD program typically opens in the early Autumn with applications being due in November or December.
The Slate – Physicians & Physician Assistants
· Primary Care Training & Enhancement (PCTE) – The PCTE Program aims to strengthen the primary care physician and physician assistant workforce by supporting enhanced training for future and current primary care clinicians, teachers, and educators and to promote primary care practice in underserved areas. PCTE solicitations are typically released in early Autumn and due towards the end of the calendar year.
Tip #1: Put a PRIMARY Focus on Primary Care
An area or community may face a variety of health professional shortages, whether it be access to primary care providers or certain types of specialists. However, HRSA defines health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) across three medical disciplines: primary care, mental health and dentistry. The aforementioned programs we anticipate opening this Autumn specifically target primary care. Since primary care providers are paid less than specialists on a per-visit basis, fewer and fewer students are practicing medicine in a primary care setting. Thus, it is crucial that the clinical rotation sites you document in the application are in primary care settings.
Tip #2: May Need a Secondary Focus on Behavioral Health
While all these grant programs will be centered on primary care, there is a caveat. Some of these grant opportunities may come out with a secondary emphasis on behavioral health. More likely, there may be priority around integrating primary and behavioral health services. For instance, the PCTE program that was released last year focused on innovative training programs that integrate behavioral health into primary care settings. We saw a similar focus in the NEPQR program two years ago. Considering the government-wide emphasis on combating the opioid epidemic, we are likely to see this trend continue.
Tip #3: Meeting the Funding Preference is Crucial to Success
All of these grant opportunities have a funding preference built into the program to address health professional shortages in rural, underserved or public health settings. There are two primary methods for meeting the funding preference, depending on the program:
· Clinical Training Site Locations: This method requires you to document the site name and locations. The applicant must cross-reference each site with HRSA data to determine whether it is considered a rural[CL1] or underserved[CL2] setting. You must also provide documentation that the site is a state or local public health department accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board (http://phaboard.org/news-room/accredited-health-departments/) to meet the public health preference. Unfortunately, you won’t receive extra consideration for meeting multiple criteria (rural, underserved, public health). In order to receive any funding preference, you will need to fill out a specified attachment as well as note you are seeking it in the project abstract.
· Post-Graduation Placement Data: This method requires that the applicant provide data on where your past graduates (over a specified time period) end up practicing. In other words, HRSA is looking for the percentage of graduates that have moved on to practice in rural, underserved or public health settings. HRSA reviewers will rank all the applicants seeking the preference based on the placement data and grant the preference to a certain percentage of applicants (e.g. top 40%). This method can pose a problem for institutions that do not have adequate systems or protocols to track such information. However, every effort should be made to meet the funding preference as it is critical to your chances of being successful with these programs.
Final Tip: Check Out the Abstracts of Past Winners
This tip applies to any grant program where there is an established funding history. HRSA provides a database[CL3] of past winners, which includes abstracts and even a project contact in some cases. You can leverage these abstracts to see what others have done. Remember that HRSA is looking to fund innovative projects, so knowing what others are doing is a key component of your due diligence. When a funded project contact is available, you may be able to reach out to past winners for advice and counsel as you develop your application. These are very competitive grants, so it is in your best interest to take all these tips into consideration if you want to be successful.