The University of Pennsylvania will offer a tuition-free NP program starting this fall thanks to a $125 million grant, the largest ever to an American nursing program.
The gift from Leonard A. Lauder, chairman emeritus of The Estee Lauder Companies and a Penn alumnus, is designed to provide primary care in underserved communities.
“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. “Growing the number of nurse practitioners who are prepared and committed to working in underserved areas is the most practical and inspiring way to ensuring a healthier country.
10 admitted to tuition-free NP program this fall
Starting this fall, 10 students will get to enroll as Leonard A. Lauder Community Care Nurse Practitioner Fellows, a two-year primary care program at Penn Nursing. By 2026 the program hopes to enroll 40 fellows annually.
Students will be selected from among full-time students in one of Penn’s primary care programs, which includes Women’s Health/Gender Related Nurse Practitioner. Although students in the women’s health track won’t be eligible the first year, they will be eligible in future years, said Susan Renz, PhD, DNP, GNP-BC, Primary Care Program Director at Penn Nursing.
Renz said the need to quickly find 10 fellows for the class that starts this fall led them to limit the search to Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.
Ultimately, all participating students will complete at least half of their clinical education at a community partner site and will be expected to commit to practice or serve in an underserved community for two years after graduation. All of their tuition and fees will be paid and students with greater financial need will receive a stipend for living expenses.
Penn Nursing will also select the first endowed Leonard D. Lauder Community Care Nurse Practitioner Professor, who will oversee the program.
Stephen P. Fera, executive vice president of Independence Blue Cross, one of the community partners, noted the importance of nurse practitioners in providing community care.
“Bolstering the nurse practitioner workforce is a means to improve access to care and strengthen the health care safety net provided by health centers,” Fera said.
Lauder’s first-hand experience with NPs
Lauder said it is his personal experience with nurse practitioners to motivated him to target his gift this way.
“My support for Nurse Practitioners comes out of a deep respect for what they do, based on firsthand experience. In a doctor’s office, I am often first assessed by a Nurse Practitioner, who works alongside the doctor as part of an expert team. I hear it when they weigh in, and the doctor listens to them too,” he said. “I speak with them, listening to what they love about their job. I’ve learned about the obstacles they face—taking on student debt, working to support a family at the same time.
“This gift is a sign of my appreciation and support, and an acknowledgement of a fundamental reality: Nurse Practitioners are key to solving this country’s acute shortage of quality health care. I hope that this gift will inspire others to step forward and dedicate their resources and support to the Nursing profession.”
Not Penn’s first NP initiative
This is not Penn’s first effort to address the shortage of primary care NPs. It also took part in a pilot program designed to attract nurse practitioners and physicians to mentor NP students, because schools frequently say they have more prospective NP students than they have preceptors who can work with them.