Program Purpose: Rural areas face unique challenges recruiting and retaining registered nurses. Communities and higher education programs must work collaboratively to successfully recruit and retain nurses and other health professionals to rural areas. Students who receive firsthand experiences in rural, underserved areas are more likely to work in these areas upon graduation, when compared to students who are not provided with these opportunities. A rural immersion experience, as part of a nursing program, is one strategy to attract nurses to work in a rural area.
Discussion: Students participate in a daylong tour visiting healthcare sites in a rural area. Students are exposed to the diversity of rural populations and services, and learn about the unique challenges and rewards of working in those settings. Over 700 students have explored a community action agency, county health department, critical access hospital, center for hospice care, and a federally qualified health center through the Rural Reality Tour.
Program Evaluation: Eighty-three percent of participants said the experience had a positive impact on their interest in working in a rural or underserved area. Students are asked to rate each partner session on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being no learning and 5 being a great deal of learning. For all sessions combined, partner sessions have averaged 4.27.
Conclusion: This low-cost, high impact program provides an opportunity to further community-based education and enhance the supply, distribution, diversity, and cultural competence of registered nurses.
Keywords: Nursing education, rural nursing, public health, Area Health Education Center (AHEC), partnerships
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