Free Nursing School: University of Pennsylvania Offers Free Education to Select Trainees

The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing is offering free nursing school to select nurse practitioner candidates dedicated to health equity.
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Updated on September 6, 2023
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  • A new program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing provides free tuition to select nurse practitioner candidates who demonstrate a commitment to health equity and underserved communities.
  • The program is funded by a $125 million donation from Penn alum Leonard A. Lauder, former CEO and current chairman emeritus of The Estée Lauder Companies.
  • After graduating from a rigorous two-year master's program at Penn, program fellows must commit to working in underserved communities for at least two subsequent years.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing is offering free tuition to select nurse practitioner (NP) candidates, thanks to a partnership with university alum and cosmetics magnate Leonard Lauder. The overarching goal of the new initiative is to help ease the nursing shortage in Pennsylvania and beyond, particularly in underserved communities.

The program is funded by a $125 million gift from Lauder, chairman emeritus of The Estée Lauder Companies.

"I've learned about the obstacles [NPs] face — taking on student debt, working to support a family at the same time," Lauder said in a Penn Nursing announcement. "I realized I needed to support these dedicated nursing professionals in the ways that I could, including easing the burden of their educational costs."

A Ground-Level Approach to Nursing Shortage in Pennsylvania

According to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, there is a 32% vacancy rate for certified registered NPs and a 30% vacancy rate for registered nurses who provide direct care in the state. Programs like the Leonard A. Lauder Community Care Nurse Practitioner Program intend to address this discrepancy.

"This gift is a sign of my appreciation and support, and an acknowledgment of a fundamental reality: Nurse Practitioners are key to solving this country's acute shortage of quality health care," Lauder said in the announcement. "I hope that this gift will inspire others to step forward and dedicate their resources and support to the Nursing profession."

Penn Nursing launched the Leonard A. Lauder Community Care Nurse Practitioner Program in 2022 with a cohort of 10 NP candidates. The initiative is intended to grow annually with a cumulative target of 140 total enrolled NP candidates by 2027.

Program fellows will graduate with advanced training in the complex needs of underserved and vulnerable populations, ideally preparing and empowering them to deliver critical services to these communities and help alleviate the acute shortage of skilled practitioners in these settings.

Free Nursing School Improves Access to Training

Penn's highly selective program is open to newly admitted nurse practitioner candidates at Penn Nursing. Students are invited to apply for the program after demonstrating a commitment to health equity in underserved communities.

Fellows receive a tuition-free education at one of the top-ranked nursing schools in the world. Students with additional financial need also may receive a stipend to cover living expenses. According to program officials, without financial aid, the cost of the program is $56,262 per year, not including books, housing, or other living expenses.

Master's-level applicants to the school of nursing should have already completed their bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) with a 3.0 GPA or higher, in addition to at least 1-2 years of hands-on experience in a clinical setting related to their intended course of study.

After completing their two-year master's program, fellows are expected to practice in underserved areas for at least two years. Additionally, the program aims to develop a strong alumni network to support new fellows through networking opportunities, career support, and biennial conferences hosted by the Penn School of Nursing.

The program launched in 2022 with a cohort of 10 NP candidates. It will grow to 20 fellows in 2023 and reach a full cohort of 40 fellows per year by 2026. The program will continue in perpetuity, with the goal of building a robust network of highly skilled NPs who are dedicated to serving the most vulnerable populations.

Supporting Local Communities

In addition to supporting the financial needs of program fellows, the initiative will also provide resources and training to community partner sites, where fellows will complete at least 50% of their clinical practicum hours.

These partnerships are intended to serve as a mutual source of learning and spur ongoing initiatives to address health inequities in local communities. Additionally, by training at these sites, students will acquire experience working with communities who demonstrate complex needs.

Penn Nursing will also help train clinical preceptors at their partner sites. In addition to serving as clinical preceptors to program fellows, this initiative aims to provide training and learning opportunities that will ultimately serve patients at the ground level.

All preceptors will receive appointments as clinical associates at Penn Nursing. They will also be encouraged to attend the biennial interdisciplinary program conference, which is slated to launch in 2024-2025.

Addressing an Acute Nursing Shortage

Community health centers provide a vital safety net for vulnerable and underserved populations, especially in rural or low-income areas.

Research shows that nurse practitioners are more likely to work in these settings compared to physicians. Additionally, multiple studies have reported that NPs provide cost-effective and high-quality care with comparable or even better outcomes compared to physician-provided care.

Faced with student loans and a rising cost of living — not to mention burnout and challenging work conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic — some NPs may pursue non-beside roles or turn to higher-paying NP specialties like anesthesiology. As a result, there is an acute need for family NPs, especially in underserved or vulnerable communities.

Penn Nursing is using an integrated approach to address these challenges, bringing in both community partners and more highly-trained NPs.

More information about the Leonard A. Lauder Community Care Nurse Practitioner Program can be found on its website.

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