GRCC, University of Michigan Health-West create pipeline of local nursing talent with tuition support, professional experience

Grand Rapids Community College and University of Michigan Health-West established a creative partnership to fill the critical need for nurses by combining tuition support with paid on-the-job professional experience.

“By removing cost barriers – including for adult learners and others who need to continue working while finishing their education – the program creates and nurtures a diverse pipeline of local healthcare talent,” said Dr. Peter Hahn, UMH-West CEO.

“We see this as an investment not just in our workforce but in West Michigan itself,” Hahn said. “This is a way to ensure that the new generation of rising healthcare leaders reflects the communities we serve.”

The program also addresses an urgent need amid warnings of a nationwide shortage of nurses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts more than 203,000 openings for registered nurses each year through 2031.

Made possible by a grant from the University of Michigan Health-West Foundation, the program launches in December. Here is how it works:

  • Students who have completed one semester of GRCC’s Nursing Program can apply for the program and have up to three semesters of their GRCC tuition paid by UMH-West
  • They will commit to working at UMH-West for two years upon completion of the GRCC program and becoming licensed as registered nurses
  • During their employment as registered nurses, UMH-West will encourage and support their completion of a bachelor’s degree in nursing through existing partnerships and tuition reimbursement

“GRCC has a great program and they put out some outstanding nurses,” said Steve Polega, chief nursing officer – and a GRCC graduate. “Once they have that two-year degree, they will have a chance to put their skills to work, explore their career passion and advance toward their BSN – which opens a whole new level of opportunity for nurses.”

Dr. Juan R. Olivarez, GRCC’s interim president, said the partnership exemplifies GRCC’s long history of helping a diverse community of learners of all ages to gain the education and skills they need to pursue rewarding careers.   

“Partnerships make communities stronger,” Olivarez said. “This program’s innovative approach is a great example of how working together creates opportunities for students while helping healthcare providers and our greater community.”  

Michelle Richter, GRCC Nursing program director, said the program is a great extension of the school’s approach to nursing education, which combines classroom instruction with clinical applications.

“We are proud of the success rate of our students, and this should help open doors to more of them,” Richter said. “Assisting students with tuition allows them to focus on completing their education, and ultimately enter the workplace more quickly and better prepared. The opportunity for employment upon graduation allows students to be able to serve the community in a rewarding career, and continue adding skills and advancing their education.”

The goal is for 10 to 15 nursing students to sign up in December and graduate in April 2023. The program seeks to enroll 10 more nursing students each of the next three semesters: December 2023, April 2024 and December 2024.

“We know that GRCC nursing students are especially committed to their community,” said Kate Veenstra, associate chief nursing officer at UMH-West. “They also bring diverse backgrounds and experiences. These are values we share at UMH-West, and we’re really looking forward to building these mutually beneficial relationships.”

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