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Health System Provides Loans in Exchange for Job Commitment

Susquehanna Health System and Pennsylvania College of Technology have announced a partnership that will help student nurses pay college expenses in exchange for a commitment of employment at the Health System’s area hospitals after graduation. The health system will commit up to $100,000 in 2001-02 to initiate this new forgiveness-award joint program.

Susquehanna Health System President-Elect Kirby Smith and Penn College President Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour made the joint announcementWednesday morning from the College’s nursing department.

Commenting on what he termed a “landmark agreement” between the College and the Health System, Smith said: “This partnership is truly an investment in the future of quality health care for our region. Through this program we will be able to recognize and reward talented nursing students with financial support for their career aspirations while, at the same time, providing Susquehanna Health System with a valuable source of new nursing professionals.”

Smith said the Health System has the “utmost confidence” in both the Penn College nursing program and the quality of its graduate nurses, many of whom already work at the system’s hospitals. As members of the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce board of directors, Smith and Gilmour also underscored the joint program’s value in providing an ongoing source of well-paying professional opportunities for the area’s young people.

Under the agreement, Susquehanna Health System will provide Penn College nursing students up to $12,000 toward the cost of an associate’s degree in nursing. Graduates who earn the associate’s degree are eligible to sit for licensure as a registered nurse.

Students will be eligible for a $4,000-per-semester forgiveness loan beginning in the second of four semesters required to complete the degree. For each $4,000 the student receives, he or she must agree to a 2,080-hour (equivalent of one year of full-time employment) work commitment in the Susquehanna Health System. A total, three-semester, $12,000 scholarship package will require a 6,240-hour (equivalent of three years of full-time employment) work commitment.

Dr. Gilmour said: “The students selected for this program will benefit greatly, not only from the dollars that will help to meet the cost of their education, but also from the assurance that they will have local employment upon graduation. The partnership is a perfect example of how two local institutions can work together to help sustain a vital Williamsport-Lycoming County workforce.”

Over the years, Susquehanna Health System has employed many graduates of Penn College and its forerunners (Williamsport Area Community College and Williamsport Technical Institute). Several alumni employees attended Wednesday morning’s announcement.

Commenting on his impressions of the nurse scholarship program and nursing opportunities at the Health System, alumni/employee Matthew McMahon, R.N., critical care nurse, said: “The program is an excellent opportunity for nursing students to ease their financial burdens and ensure that they will have opportunities right in town after graduation.” Formerly employed as a paramedic at Susquehanna Health System, McMahon emphasized his high regard for the commitment shown by Penn College and the Health System to educate and employ nurses in this area.

Heather Burcher, R.N., B.S.N., nurse in the Health System’s critical care float pool added: “The nursing program at Penn College was stimulating and exciting for me. The instructors are a terrific group and it is clear that their goal is to uplift nursing as a profession. The program will benefit students financially so that they can focus on their studies and not worry so much about how they will pay for their education. Furthermore, after graduation, their nursing opportunities will be unlimited.”

She also emphasized that Susquehanna Health System provides its nurses with the ability to take action, save a life, problem solve and apply critical thinking skills while creating an environment of compassion and security for the patient. She is excited about the prospect of eventually working with fellow nursing graduates of Penn College.

Letters will be issued this week to third- and fourth-semester Penn College nursing students who may be eligible for the program. Eligibility criteria include a minimum 2.5 grade-point average, completion of most general pre-nursing course work, writing skills as exhibited on the application, a personal interview and two letters of recommendation from professionals aware of work capabilities.

Students must submit an application by July 6 to be considered for the upcoming fall term. Representatives of Susquehanna Health System will interview fall candidates, selecting and notifying those who are chosen for the program by August 6.

Several of the students who may be eligible for the program were on hand for the announcement.

Student Lisa Hutchins declared, “As everyone knows, today there is a major shortage of nurses and I, as a current nursing student at Penn College, feel that the loan forgiveness plan provided by SHS would be a get way to get more nurses out and into the field.”

Another student, Deannette Waltman, added that the program “is beneficial to people who are looking into nursing but are unsure of their financial situation.”

Wayne Reich, a Penn College nursing student and employee at Susquehanna Home Care, said, “The collaboration between Susquehanna Health System and Penn College helps ease the financial burdens and provides valuable experience for nursing students like myself by providing a smooth transition from student to nursing professional.”

Outreach to area middle and high schools also will be a part of the partnership. Susquehanna Health System and Penn College will coordinate communication with area guidance counselors and career coordinators to ensure that students in the area school districts will be aware of health-care career opportunities in the local area and the availability of scholarships.

On June 25 and 26, children of Penn College and Susquehanna Health System employees who are entering grades 9-12 are invited to participate in a special program to learn more about health careers. Sessions will be held at Penn College from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. on the first day and from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on the second day. The program will include hands-on career activities in nursing, radiography, occupational therapy assistant and paramedic technology. Lunch and refreshments will be provided. Similar workshops will be offered over the next school year. Shadowing and volunteer opportunities at Susquehanna Health System also are available by contacting the Volunteer Office.

Representatives of Susquehanna Health System also indicated that additional funds are available through the system’s employment department for students who are interested in pursuing an education in other health-care majors such as radiography, pharmacy, occupational therapy and dietetics.

Those responsible for the development of the program are Deborah Wilson, dean of the School of Health Sciences; Kathie Morr, assistant dean, and Pamela Starcher, director of nursing, all from Penn College, and Candy Dewar, vice president and chief nursing officer, and Glenn Mechling, vice president, human resources, both from Susquehanna Health System .

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