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ECU nurse faculty member gets federal grant to increase number and diversity of nurse practitioners in North Carolina

June 20, 2007

An East Carolina University nurse faculty member has received federal funding to increase the number and diversity of nurse practitioners in underserved rural areas of North Carolina.

Dr. Linda Steele, associate professor and director of the adult and family nurse practitioner concentrations in the ECU School of Nursing, is principal investigator. Steele was awarded $282,330 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration. The grant is renewable for $227,506 in the second year and $207,565 in the third year.

"The funding will provide unique opportunities for the School of Nursing and nurse practitioner students to make a great contribution to health care needs in eastern North Carolina," said Steele, who cares for indigent patients at the James D. Bernstein Community Health Center north of Greenville.

Objectives include insuring that family and adult nurse practitioner students have the knowledge and skill to provide culturally competent care to diverse groups of patients, particularly those with chronic illness, and collaborating with health care providers, educators, researchers and policy makers to insure that graduates contribute to improving the infrastructure for accessible, high quality health care in the region.

Eastern North Carolina is characterized as poor, unhealthy and rural. Sixteen percent of the population lives in poverty compared to a state rate of 12 percent. Of particular concern is a growing health disparity. If the present trend continues, the non-white mortality rate will be 35 percent greater than the rate for whites in 2010, according to the grant proposal.

The grant builds on a strong family nurse practitioner program in which 100 percent of the ECU students passed the national certification exam upon graduation in 2005 and 2006. Enhancing the new adult nurse practitioner option which was approved last year will be a focus, Steele said.

ECU's nursing school is a leader in distance education and has been recognized by the University of North Carolina system for its high quality program and positive impact on addressing shortages in the region. The grant will allow the school to expand components of the adult and family nurse practitioner programs to include a virtual clinic and standardized clinical assessments to another site to allow increased access for distance learning. New courses will be developed and minority student recruitment and retention through a mentoring project will be emphasized, Steele said.

Before joining ECU in 2005, Steele was coordinator of nurse practitioner programs at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She holds a doctorate in adult health nursing from the University of Texas, post master's certificate in counseling, master's degree in psychiatric nursing and bachelor's degree in nursing, all from Southern Illinois University, and adult nurse practitioner's certification from the State University of New York.