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U of M Health West provides funding and employment opportunities for GRCC nursing students

GRCC nursing program students Matthew Burg (left) and Joseph Skorka (right) (Alena Visnovsky/The Collegiate).

By Emily Bejerano

In addition to a 96% registered nurse exam passing rate in 2022, Grand Rapids Community College’s nursing department is striving to provide continued support for program completion and employment through a partnership with University of Michigan Health West.  

As of December 2022, 18 GRCC nursing students have received funding for up to three semesters from the University of Michigan Health West’s partnership with the program. These students have been granted the opportunities to continue obtaining nursing education and training, have employment opportunities after graduation, and have the financial burden of a nursing education lifted. 

To Matthew Burg, a 41-year-old nursing student from Rockford, this is a great aid. 

“It’s very motivating  to me,” Burg said. “I was just expecting to keep paying out of pocket.” 

Similarly, Joseph Skorka, a 29-year-old from Grand Rapids, felt relieved when receiving the scholarship. 

“Knowing that I had one less thing to worry about with school was definitely a relief,” Skirka said. “(It) let me focus more on my actual school work instead of figuring out if I was even going to stay in the program at all.“

Students successful in their first semester in the program may apply for the scholarship to cover a maximum of three additional semesters.

When applying, students must express their interest in working for U of M Health West and why they need the scholarship. Currently, students are being evaluated based on their responses to essay questions. However, interviews with a panel of U of M Health West and GRCC nursing staff will be implemented in the future cohorts, according to Michelle Richter, GRCC nursing department director. “We did not look at GPA or things like that, it was selected based on that application format,” she said. 

Initially, the goal for this partnership’s cohorts was to have 180 nurses in five years, having 10-15 students per cohort.

The first group allowed for 18 students to receive scholarships with fluctuations depending on available funding and number of interested applicants. 

In preparation for employment at U of M Health West, the nursing program provides clinical experience that allows students to connect with patients and apply their knowledge and skills to real cases. 

“I’ve been working over at Mary Free Bed…we study the patient chart, learn more (of) what’s going on with an individual patient. We can meet the patient in person…we take their vital signs and we learn about how to interact with them.” 

The clinical experiences and training provide a foundation for the tasks and responsibilities students will have when working for U of M Health West institutions. Students begin feeling comfortable with the nursing job setting after they get clinical experience. 

“By the end of this seven week rotation at our current clinical site, I’m definitely a lot more comfortable and I feel prepared to actually treat patients in the future,” Skorka said.  

In addition to GRCC nursing program’s efforts, students will receive an eight to 12-week orientation with guidance from assigned nurses when they begin in U of M Health West, according to Kate Veenstra, associate chief nursing officer at UMH-West. 

 “They also bring diverse backgrounds and experiences. These are values we share at UMH-West, and we’re really looking forward to building these mutually beneficial relationships,” Veenstra said in a November 2022 GRCC news release.


Richter said GRCC’s partnership with U of M helps address the nursing shortage.

Doing some initiatives like this…really helps them… to stay on task and meet those educational needs,” she said. “That way they finish and get out of the program sooner and can fulfill those open nursing positions.” 

Both Richter and Veenstra are grateful to the U of M Health West Foundation for the funding for this opportunity. Richter said, 

“The University of Michigan Health West Foundation… is really the initiative behind this, how this got funded, and really set this in motion. We’re really excited and grateful for that.”

Many students wait about a year and half to get into GRCC’s nursing program, but can take their general prerequisites while waiting to get in.


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