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Montana State nursing college receives $2.6 million to combat lack of health care providers in rural communities

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Montana State University students practice in a simulation lab at the Mark and Robyn Jones College of Nursing. PHOTO BY KELLY GORHAM


BOZEMAN — Alicia Crane wasn’t sure how she was going to be able to afford her doctor of nursing practice degree.

As an undergraduate at Montana State University, she had always hoped to earn an advanced degree so she could better serve her rural community, but she knew that raising three children while working as a registered nurse would make paying for another three or four years of school difficult.

Then she applied for MSU’s Advanced Nursing Education Workforce program scholarship. As one of 20 ANEW scholars selected annually, Crane receives a stipend each semester to help cover the costs of tuition, books and travel as she prepares for a career as a nurse practitioner working in a rural community.

Alicia Crane lives in Roberts, Montana, works as a registered nurse in Red Lodge and is enrolled in MSU’s doctor of nursing practice program. MSU offers distance learning for the advanced degree so students like Crane can complete their schoolwork from home. Photo provided.

“It’s been a huge blessing and help,” Crane said. “I can’t say in words how thankful I am for the scholarship.”

The ANEW program is funded by a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. MSU received its first ANEW grant in 2019, and it was recently renewed for $2.6 million over four years, which administrators in the Mark and Robyn Jones College of Nursing refer to as ANEW 2.0.

“The ANEW grant allows us to provide the financial support to cover tuition and fees, books and supplies, and even travel,” said Sarah Shannon, dean of MSU’s nursing college. “ANEW also allows us to offer special learning opportunities to ensure that we produce not just nurse practitioners but rural-ready nurse practitioners who are already embedded in and committed to their local communities.”

The ANEW program is designed to increase access to health care for rural Montanans, a core focus of the nursing college. All but two of Montana’s 56 counties are classified as health care professional shortage areas, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

MSU offers two options in its doctor of nursing practice, or DNP, degree program. Family practice nurse practitioners serve as primary care providers with the ability, in Montana, to diagnose, prescribe and refer patients to specialists. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners assess, diagnose and treat acute and chronic mental health needs of their patients.

ANEW scholarship recipients commit to working in rural health care. Scholars are required to perform some of their clinical work at rural hospitals or health centers. They also must join the Area Health Education Center scholars program, a two-year, nationally recognized certificate program designed to develop and improve skills to help them better serve patients in rural communities. The AHEC scholars program includes 80 extra hours of learning and access to specialty training seminars, like classes on suturing or managing diabetes in a rural setting.

“They’re going above and beyond what they’re learning in the DNP program and spending more time learning about various health care topics,” said Kailyn Mock, director of the Montana AHEC and Office of Rural Health at MSU.

Many of the current ANEW scholars, like Crane, are already living and working in rural communities. Crane lives in Roberts, Montana, and works nearby at the Beartooth Billings Clinic in Red Lodge.

“What I love about being at a small hospital is being that puzzle piece for my community to provide what they need,” Crane said.

Stacy Stellflug, an MSU nursing professor who is the principal investigator for the ANEW grant, said during the early days of ANEW, many applicants came from large metropolitan areas. Now, she said, many more of the ANEW scholars are coming from rural communities.

The DNP program offers distance learning, which allows students to remain living in their home communities and attend classes virtually. The university also works with clinical preceptors around the state to allow students to perform their hands-on learning, or clinical work, close to home.

“When our students are actually coming from those rural settings, they often have a job promised to them when they graduate,” Stellflug said. “The ANEW grant is a mechanism for them to financially be able to do DNP education and become a much-needed health care provider for rural Montana.”

Contact: Stacy Stellflug, 406-657-1740 or

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