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A $793,828 grant has been awarded to East Central University's Department of Nursing to expand its nursing program in the Ardmore area and increase the number of students in its RN to BSN completion program.

The grant, from the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA), will enable ECU to continue the expansion of its nursing program in Ardmore and offer the RN to BSN completion program every year. The grant also will help establish partnerships with K-12 grade schools to focus on recruiting American Indian students from rural areas.

The RN to BSN program helps registered nurses complete a four-year college degree.

The university will receive the grant funds over a three-year period starting this month. "This grant is great news for Ardmore and the state as a whole," said ECU President Richard Rafes. "A substantial portion of the grant funds will be used to continue the expansion of the ECU nursing program at Ardmore. I commend our nursing faculty for their extraordinary efforts in writing and securing this grant.

"People in the Ardmore area," he added, "will have a better opportunity to become nurses, find good jobs and help address the critical nursing shortage in Oklahoma and elsewhere."

The grant focuses on the shortage of registered nurses with four-year college degrees in the southeastern quadrant of Oklahoma, which is considered medically underserved by the federal government. ECU has the only baccalaureate degree nursing program in southeastern Oklahoma.

"We are very pleased to have secured this grant," said Dr. Joseph T. Catalano, chair of the Department of Nursing. "It will allow us to expand our program and offer students options that we otherwise would not have been able to offer."

Last January a partnership between ECU, Mercy Memorial Health Center and the Southern Oklahoma Memorial Foundation enabled ECU to start offering its nursing program in Ardmore. Ten new students were admitted to the Ardmore program. With the award of the HRSA grant, ECU now will expand the program and admit 16 students at Ardmore in 2009. The number will increase to 24 students in January 2010, Catalano said.

"When fully implemented," he said, "the ECU@Ardmore program will have as many as 74 students enrolled in nursing classes at any given time with an additional 150 nursing majors taking pre-requisite courses on site."

Data collected nationally projects a shortage of close to 200,000 RNs in the United States by 2012. In Oklahoma alone, the state medical association projects a shortage of more than 3,000 RNs by 2012.

Those projections are linear, Catalano pointed out, and do not include the need for additional RNs created by hospital expansions such as the new Chickasaw Nation Hospital in Ada or the new "tower" being built at Mercy Memorial Hospital in Ardmore.

"The shortage is likely to be even higher than original projections," he said.

ECU will hire a full-time faculty member and an RN to BSN Program coordinator.

ECU’s first class of nursing students graduated in 1974. Today, the program has a reputation for excellence in nursing education with more than 400 majors and some 60 graduates each year. Graduates are heavily recruited by health care facilities all over Oklahoma, north Texas and throughout the southern plains region.

Catalano said the nursing program has secured just under $4.5 million in external funds, including two previous HRSA grants.

"When you submit a federal grant, reviewers in Washington, D.C., grade it on a 100 maximum point scale. On this current grant, we received a perfect 100 out of 100 point review which is very rare. There were no areas of weakness identified by the reviewers," Catalano said.

Dr. Anne Davis, ECU nursing professor and principal author of the grant, said competition for this type of grant is fierce. "Not only have the numbers of available grants been markedly reduced over the last seven years, but we also must compete with larger programs from all across the nation," she said. "Many of these programs have faculty whose primary job is to write grants, rather than teach. They also have university grant departments whose sole purpose is to write grants.

"We believe our ability to compete with these types of programs and successfully obtain this current grant, while carrying full-time teaching loads, indicates the dedication and high quality of the ECU nursing faculty," she said.

For more information about the nursing program or a nursing faculty position, contact the nursing department at 888-691-0001 or e-mail

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