MORE than 1800 scholarships in the Primary Care Nursing and Midwifery Scholarship Program, funded by the federal government, will be prioritised for nurses and midwives in regional and rural areas.

On May 6, the federal government announced that $50.2 million would be allocated to the program over four years. It will fund postgraduate training of registered nurses and midwives to become nurse practitioners and endorsed midwives, giving them the capacity to prescribe medications, order pathology tests, and perform procedures like contraceptive implant insertions.

It comes nearly a year after a Senate inquiry into addressing barriers to sexual, maternity, and reproductive healthcare delivered a report recommending that the federal government review barriers to pregnant women’s access to timely healthcare.The recommendation – the 15th out of 21 – highlighted rural and regional areas as significant to review.

Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Ged Kearny, said, “When I visited Sale late last year, I heard the message from the community loud and clear: Gippsland needs more nurse practitioners.

“This announcement will go a long way to doing that and building our regional health workforce now and into the future.”

The Senate Inquiry heard that long wait times to access GPs in rural and regional communities remain problematic, especially for people seeking contraception access and script renewals.

Gippsland nurse practitioner and endorsed midwife, Eleanor Crighton said rural patients are disadvantaged because they can wait up to six weeks to be seen.

“Every patient in their community should have the ability to access and have a clinical review with a nurse practitioner if they choose to,” Ms Crighton said.

“If they’re needing prescriptions and needing ultrasounds (and) they’re needing X rays, they can have those tests ordered. As a nurse, currently in the model, they can’t order those tests for the community.”

Registered nurses cannot order those tests without upskilling. However, having already financed postgraduate study to become a nurse practitioner and endorsed a midwife, Ms Crighton said upskilling comes at a financial cost.

“Often a nurse or midwife – whichever pathway they’re on – have to step out of paid employment while they’re on unpaid placement, which is part of what you have to do to get where you need to be,” she said.

Ms Crighton said this is difficult because nurses and midwives balance the cost of mortgages and raise families with petrol prices to travel to the classes they pay money for and the placement for which they are not compensated.

But this is changing as well. The federal government has announced a “Commonwealth Prac Payment” to support selected groups of students doing mandatory work placements.

Students studying to be nurses or midwives will be eligible to receive $319.50 per week while on placement. The payment is due to begin in July 2025, with some details yet to be ironed out.

Ms Crighton said her role as an accredited nurse practitioner and endorsed midwife is recruiting skilled clinicians and mentoring and encouraging other nurses.

Excited by the number of scholarships available, of which there are 1850 in total, Ms Crighton said she wants local nurses to immerse themselves in the communities they grew up in and not move away, chasing the roles they want.

“WHEN the announcement came through on Monday (May 6), I got text messages (from) beautiful, skilled nurses who can now access this program,” Ms Crighton said.

“They’ve got kids, they’ve got family, they’ve got mortgages and the financial barrier … I was getting Facebook messages and I was that excited.”

Hoping the scholarships can increase retention rates of local nurses and midwives, Ms Crighton said the funding will go a long way in ensuring job satisfaction.

The federal government says the program will strengthen the health workforce in rural and remote communities by providing preference to scholarship applicants currently living or working in these areas.

The Australian College of Nurse Practitioners (ACNP) will manage the scholarship program by setting up an advisory group to ensure the scholarships are awarded in the areas of most need, including rural and remote communities and to First Nations students.

Leanne Boase, the chief executive of the Australian College of Nurse Practitioners, said, “We know that nurses and midwives working in primary care improve access to health care and health outcomes.”

“Supporting and enabling their development and full scope of practice will ensure more want to work in primary care, and it will also attract many more people into the workforce.”