Penn receives $125M gift to start community nursing program, tuition-free

The University of Pennsylvania's new tuition-free program is designed to address a major shortage of nurse practitioners nationwide.

A team of medical professionals rehearse different scenarios in the new patient rooms at the new Pavilion building at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

A team of medical professionals rehearse different scenarios in the new patient rooms at the new Pavilion building at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

The University of Pennsylvania has received a $125 million donation to start a program to train nurse practitioners for free, the institution announced Monday. It is the largest ever donation to an American nursing program, according to Penn.

The Leonard A. Lauder Community Care Nurse Practitioner Program will “recruit and prepare a diverse cadre of expert nurse practitioners to provide primary care to individuals and families in underserved communities across the U.S.,” according to an official release.

“Now more than ever, the country needs greater and more equitable access to quality primary care—and highly-skilled nurse practitioners are the key to making that happen,” said Leonard A. Lauder in a statement. Lauder is a Penn alumnus and chairman emeritus of The Estée Lauder Companies.

The gift will establish a two-year program, with at least 50% of their clinical education spent at community partner sites or a comparable clinic providing direct care. For the two years following graduation, every fellow must commit to working in an underserved community.

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The first class will begin in 2022 with 10 fellows, working up to a full complement of 40 fellows in 2026. Students will receive financial aid to cover all tuition and fees, and those who demonstrate greater financial need can receive a stipend for living expenses.

To become a fellow, students must already be admitted full-time into the adult gerontology primary care program, the family nurse practitioner program, or the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program.

“The synergy between Penn Nursing and the Program will improve the health of underserved patients and families, by uniquely preparing primary care nurse practitioners, who will work with them in their communities,” said Penn Nursing Dean Antonia Villarruel.

Penn Nursing currently enrolls approximately 1,229 students with the majority in BSN or MSN programs, according to the school’s website.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the nation’s nursing shortage into relief. In 2022, there will be more nurse practitioner jobs available than any other profession at more than 100,000 per year, according to the American Nurses Association.

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“This is the most timely and consequential gift not only for our university but for our country. It is unprecedented in its potential to address America’s most critical need of providing primary health care to all who currently lack it by investing in nurses,” said former Penn President Amy Gutmann, who was recently appointed ambassador to Germany by the Biden Administration.

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