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Two central Minnesota colleges work to bring more advanced health providers to areas in need

The graduate-level degrees will fill an increasing demand, particularly in rural areas.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — As COVID-19 continues to cause concerns, there's an increasing demand for advanced nurse practitioners across the state.

To address this growing need, the College of Saint Benedict, in partnership with Saint John's University, welcomed their first group of students into their new doctor of nursing practice programs this fall.

"Approximately 1 in 4 to 1 in 5 of our undergraduate students goes on to a graduate-level degree, and we wanted to provide them an opportunity for them to transition into a graduate program right in our own college," said Jennifer Peterson, chair of the graduate nursing program at the college. 

The graduate-level degrees will be the first awarded on the campus, and will fill an increasing demand, particularly in rural areas.

"We met with our clinical agencies and community partners to see where [there are] the gaps for health care, and where are they having a difficult time filling the need," said Peterson.

"We started thinking about how could we best develop a program here using resources we have," said Dr. Shonda Craft, Dean of the School of Health and Human Services at St. Cloud State University. 

Craft says graduate nursing education has always been on the table, but a recent collaboration with the University of Minnesota and CentraCare kicked things into gear. 

"So they do those first years at the University of Minnesota, but they'll do their clinicals here in the central Minnesota area with CentraCare," said Craft.

Both program leaders say the goal is to bring more advanced practice providers to areas where there's a need. 

"We want those students to be retained after they finish their clinical work and obtain their degree," said Peterson.

St. Cloud State is hoping to develop their own independent program in the next few years.

The Master of Science in Nursing program at St. Benedict's is currently in development. It's expected to launch next fall.