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ECU Nursing gets scholarship boost with rural focus

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Sylvia Brown, dean of the ECU College of Nursing, spoke Monday to Brian Cresta of UnitedHealthCare (front left), N.C. Rep. Dr. Greg Murphy, seated next to Cresta, and recent ECU nursing graduates about the college's Regionally Increasing Baccalaureate Nurses (RIBN) program,


By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A major health insurance corporation has stepped in to help fund ECU nursing students interested in careers in eastern North Carolina.

UnitedHealthcare on Monday donated $25,000 to the East Carolina University College of Nursing to fund scholarships for students enrolled in their final year of the Regionally Increasing Baccalaureate Nurses (RIBN) program.

Brian Cresta, UnitedHealthcare vice president for business development presented the check to Sylvia Brown, dean of the ECU College of Nursing. N.C. House District 9 Rep. Greg Murphy and ECU nursing graduate Caroline Jones-Lanier also spoke at the event. 

The goal of the RIBN program is to provide a pipeline of nurses to underserved and rural parts of the state by making it easier and more affordable for economically challenged students from those communities to obtain their BSN, Brown said.

“The generosity of donors and organizations that provide scholarships for our students help us meet our college’s mission to partner with community colleges to serve as a model for transforming health in eastern North Carolina,” Brown said. 

While most nurses enter the ENC health care workforce with associate degrees, ECU works to increase nurses’ educational preparation, part of a nationwide effort, Brown said.

“We know that we’re taking care of patients who are really sick in a complex system, and we need our nurses to be well-prepared,” she said.

ECU already prepares more new nurses than any college in North Carolina. The college began the RIBN program in 2010, working with 10 students from 14 community colleges. ECU now partners with 17 colleges and advances 75 students’ nursing educations with plans to expand further, Brown said. 

Cresta said ECU’s mission matched UnitedHealthcare’s mission, and he expects the program to be successful in increasing people’s access to health care.

“Health care is a challenging issue. The reality is that supporting health care in rural parts of North Carolina and America needs to be a combined effort from everybody, not just the education and health care communities,” he said. “This program represents the future of health care delivery in eastern North Carolina.

Murphy, a full-time Greenville physician and chairman of the House Standing Committee on Health, said state legislators grapple with rural health care issues, including the shortage of health care professionals at all levels.

“Programs like RIBN help bolster our efforts at the state level to get professionals into rural areas,” Murphy said. “I see first-hand the difficulties (rural) hospitals have pulling people in to work. I see first-hand what a program like this will do to keep people local.” 

Murphy said health professionals who start out working locally are more likely to stay in local communities.

“The Brody School of Medicine and the School of Dental Medicine also have nationally recognized programs to start people working locally, where they can help their families and neighbors” he said. “We see this ‘brain drain’ happening everywhere; people going from rural to urban areas and staying there. We need people to more organically live and stay in their own communities and make a difference back home.”

Murphy said starting and keeping nurses and other health professionals at home must be part of a package of efforts supported and promoted by state legislators.

“In my opinion, it’s as much an economic issue as a health issue, part of developing local communities to make them economically viable to keep people there,” he said. 

Jones-Lanier, who received her associate’s degree in nursing from Lenoir Community College before completing her bachelor’s degree in 2017 at ECU, said she chose to stay in Kinston to work because she could take care of her neighbors.

“The RIBN program definitely encouraged me to stay in my local community, but I also want to represent other nursing students who are first-generation college students; some who are young single moms for whom paying university tuition is just not an option,” she said. “By investing in this program, you’re investing in local nurses at small-town hospitals.”

Becky Jordan, director of ECU’s RN-BSN and RIBN programs, said the RIBN program involves a rigorous course of study for the dually-enrolled community college and ECU students.Upon graduation from ECU, they will have completed their associate’s and bachelor’s degrees and will have passed the registered nurse licensing exam. They normally complete their academic obligations while performing their professional obligations, she said.

“They are involved to the max,” Jordan said.

For more information about ECU RIBN nursing education program, visit: ecu.edu/cs-dhs/nursing/ribn.cfm.