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WRHCF promotes education of health care professionals

WORTHINGTON -- With an aging U.S. population and an increased demand for health care services among all demographic groups, upholding a steady supply of capable, skilled professionals to meet those needs is a must.

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Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation scholarship recipients Miriam Ongeta (from left), Alex Ochiengi and Cyrus Nyakundi are shown Wednesday on the Worthington campus of Minnesota West Community and Technical College. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- With an aging U.S. population and an increased demand for health care services among all demographic groups, upholding a steady supply of capable, skilled professionals to meet those needs is a must.

That’s why the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation, Inc. (WRHCF), finds its mission -- to promote, facilitate and support the health, wellness and educational needs of residents in the Worthington area -- perfectly coincides with its practice of awarding annual scholarships to students pursuing health care careers.

“It’s a great privilege to provide financial support to individuals seeking a health degree or certificate, or to those who are advancing in their chosen fields,” said Karen Wiltrout, chair of the WRHCF’s five-person scholarship committee.

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“Committed and dedicated health care professionals are critical to maintaining the health and wellness of our rural communities.”

Dawn Gordon, Dean of Nursing at Minnesota West Community and Technical College (MWCTC), concurs.

“Nursing is critical,” she asserted. “In looking at the past 20 years of statistics for our nursing programs, MWCTC has graduated over 2,000 LPNs (licensed practical nurses) and RNs (registered nurses) in that time.

“Area health care leaders do not know what they would do without these people, because they sustain our area clinics, hospitals, long-term care and assisted living facilities and are the bulk of our local health care workforce,” she continued.

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“Because our population is both aging and growing, it’s all the more important to have a local college with a nursing program like ours.”

WRHCF awards up to 11 health-related scholarships annually, with maximum individual scholarship amounts of $2,000.

“A total of $8,000 is available each year for the LPN and RN scholarships, which are generally granted in March,” explained Jeff Rotert, WRHCF executive director.

“There’s also up to $6,000 available annually for health care professional scholarships,” he added. “Those are typically given out in August.”

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Not only do the scholarships aid nursing and health care students in meeting the financial obligations related to their educational studies, they have the benefit of engendering a positive feeling toward the greater community, Gordon observes.

“The students who have been recipients of these scholarships often remain to work in the Worthington area and are very grateful to the foundation for the help they’ve received,” assured Gordon.

“Oftentimes, they’re sacrificing other employment or family time to pursue their nursing or professional programs, so the scholarships can help compensate for a lack of or reduced income level during the educational process.”

Wiltrout outlined the impact the WRHCF contributions have made.

“Since July 2008, the WRHCF has awarded to qualified applicants 81 health care-related scholarships totaling $133,000,” detailed Wiltrout.

“These applicants were seeking either entry level or advanced health care degrees or certificates, and the WRHCF has proudly supported students seeking LPN diplomas or RN associate degrees through MWCTC, as well as other health care professionals advancing to roles as certified nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists or paramedics.”

The scope of MWCTC’s training program alone is broad.

“Three of the MWCTC campuses really focus on nursing: Pipestone, Granite Falls and Worthington,” listed Gordon.

“Among those sites, we currently have 131 students enrolled in LPN-level programs, which last 10 months, and 99 students in the RN program, which requires nine months plus pre-existing LPN certification.

“The major difference between an LPN and RN is in the level of responsibility,” she continued. “LPNs often work alongside RNs in a team format, with RNs having more responsibility.”

Statistically, LPN and RN graduates from MWCTC succeed exceedingly well at finding jobs.

“In all, 96.6 percent of our nursing grads become employed,” cited Gordon. “That’s one of the highest placement rates in any profession.

“They’re very likely to be employed in our local communities and they tend to find jobs very quickly, which makes us proud.”

The WRHCF scholarships are a terrific means of assisting nursing and health care professional students, Gordon agrees, because of the financial aid and psychological encouragement they provide.

“The scholarships may be used for tuition, books, travel expenses, exam fees -- they really can use the money where they most need it,” noted Gordon.

Because it’s a regional foundation, Rotert stresses that preference is given to scholarship applicants who intend to remain in the area following completion of their respective educational programs.

“A chief criterion we consider is whether they plan to remain in the Worthington area when they’re done,” said Rotert.

“Now, these are strictly scholarships, not loans, and we understand that things can change in people’s lives that require a move -- and in that case we do not seek repayment -- but our preference is that they remain employed locally so we are essentially providing an opportunity to create a level of competent, constant caregivers right here.”

The nine-person WRHCF board feels its regular investment in scholarship dollars is money well spent.

Summarized Rotert: “We all know education is expensive, so whatever we can do to help further students’ goals and dreams, as well as encourage them to stay in the Worthington area, is extremely valuable.”

Related Topics: HEALTHEDUCATION
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