WORTHINGTON — April Halbur and Marissa Marten are among a growing number of area professionals who are grateful to the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation (WRHCF) for its commitment to support local nursing and health professional students.
"I am greatly appreciative of receiving this scholarship," said Halbur, an R.N. who received a $2,000 WRHCF scholarship this year to aid in meeting her educational goals.
Marten, another 2018 WRHCF scholarship recipient, is pursuing a Ph.D. in education, with a specialization in nursing education.
"I'm a Practical Nursing instructor for the PN program at Minnesota West Community and Technical College," said Marten.
"And I plan to stay in Worthington after completing my Ph.D. with Capella University in June 2019 because I have a passion for the learning curve of nursing students at Minnesota West. I watch them grow and succeed year after year."
Those sentiments are exactly why the WRHCF's scholarship committee, which has awarded $174,000 to 107 recipients since 2008, aims to reward nursing and health professional students who plan to remain in the greater Worthington area after furthering their educations.
"We have given the WRHCF board more flexibility, with the possibility of giving a maximum of $2,000 per scholarship for LPN and RN students," explained Jeff Rotert, WRHCF's executive director.
"It's the same with health care professional students. We try to reward as many good candidates as possible."
In the past year alone, the WRHCF has distributed $16,000 in scholarships to RN/LPN candidates, $6,000 to health care professionals and an additional $2,500 to the second recipient of the Dorothy Rutgers Memorial Scholarship, which was initiated in 2017 expressly to benefit employees of Sanford Worthington.
"Kaley McNab is the second person to receive the Dorothy Rutgers Memorial Scholarship," noted Rotert, adding that the announcement was made in August.
With its three-pronged scholarship approach, the WRHCF hopes to help local health care providers — including hospitals, assisted living and long-term care facilities, clinics and hospices — recruit and retain a well-trained and committed employee base.
"The WRHCF board takes pride in helping maintain the health workforce in Worthington and the surrounding area," said Rotert. "It's a cornerstone of our philosophy, and we take great pride and joy in helping these students fulfill their health care educations."
Dawn Gordon, Dean of Nursing and Sciences at Minnesota West, believes that philosophy is succeeding.
"Minnesota West and the WRHCF have a dedicated partnership to growing and supporting nurses, as well as other health care professionals, in our community," said Gordon. "The scholarships directly help with educational costs to sustain students during their time in nursing school."
Currently, Minnesota West has roughly 200 students in its RN and LPN programs — about 100 in each. Those who intend to live and work in the greater Worthington area — about 60, Gordon estimates — are eligible to apply for the WRHCF scholarships.
"There's an ongoing need for nurses, so it's important to sustain them with these scholarship opportunities," said Gordon. "And the students who receive the funds are very thankful for the support and for the current and past WRHCF donors who make them possible."
Whether it's nursing or other health care careers, such as occupational or physical therapy, the demand for trained professionals in the field is growing.
"There's a high probability of gainful employment upon the successful completion of a training program," assured Gordon, adding that Minnesota West has a 100 percent employment rate for its LPN and RN students.
Salaries are also attractive, with the median wage for LPNs in Greater Minnesota being $40,000 and for RNs, $58,000. Zippia.com lists four health care-related jobs among its top five of the "10 fastest growing jobs in Minnesota in 2017." Home health aids are ranked first, with personal care assistants slotted at third, nurse practitioners in fourth and physician assistants rounding out the top five.
But education comes with a price tag, and Gordon urges her nursing students to explore scholarship options, such as the targeted ones offered by the WRHCF.
"It's well worth their time to apply," Gordon said. "Receiving a scholarship can help reduce a student's tuition costs and increase their sense of loyalty to this community."
That's certainly the case with Marten, who is focusing her doctoral research on the benefits of study groups and group work among first-year nursing students, as well as for Halbur.
"I have taken a job at Sanford Hospice here in Worthington, and I'm so happy to be able to serve the community in which I live," said Halbur.
With skyrocketing demand for health care workers and nurses, decent compensation for careers in that field and additional support from community-minded organizations such as the WRHCF, what's not to like?
"We feel very fortunate to have these opportunities for nursing students," said Gordon.
For a full listing of health care and nursing scholarship recipients to date, plus scholarship descriptions and application deadlines, visit wrhcf.com.