The T.L.L. Temple Foundation has awarded a grant to Stephen F. Austin State University that will support a proposed Master of Science in nursing degree and allow healthcare professionals to pursue careers as family nurse practitioners.

Family nurse practitioners provide comprehensive primary care to patients of all ages, managing acute and chronic conditions, often to underserved and vulnerable populations. Dr. Baker Pattillo, SFA president, said the university is committed to addressing growing concerns regarding severe shortages, statewide and nationally, in access to quality health care.

"The DeWitt School of Nursing has a reputation for excellence in the delivery of nursing education," Pattillo said. "We are grateful for the support of the T.L.L. Temple Foundation and appreciate their partnership and their desire to ensure that East Texans have access to quality health care in the years to come."

According to Dr. Kim Childs, dean of the College of Sciences and Mathematics at SFA, only 10 percent of physicians graduating from medical schools choose to practice in rural areas, while approximately 80 percent of nurse practitioners are employed in primary care settings in rural areas, where they diagnose and manage acute and chronic health problems, prescribe medications, plan treatments, and teach patients to promote and maintain health.

"Increasing the number of nurse practitioners providing primary care will increase the availability of quality health care and improve the well-being of East Texans," Childs said. "By adding this program, SFA's DeWitt School of Nursing will continue its tradition of preparing nurses who can practice at all levels and meet the changing demands of health care."

The $750,000 Temple Foundation grant will provide start-up fees for the proposed program, which must be approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and other affiliated agencies.

"The board of trustees of the T.L.L. Temple Foundation is pleased to partner with SFA in this endeavor to maximize resources to cultivate outstanding educational experiences for students who serve to improve the quality of life in our region of Texas," said Buddy Zeagler, executive director of the foundation.

A recent Texas Tribune report showed that 10 of the 12 counties in Deep East Texas are designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas and hospitals across the state are dealing with similar issues.

"The new nurse practitioners program at SFA will address a critical shortage of primary care providers, particularly in the outlying communities in East Texas," said Gary Stokes, CEO of Nacogdoches Medical Center. "This program will provide greater opportunities for East Texas residents to get the training and clinical rotations locally. The recruitment and retention of these students is essential in providing qualified practitioners and returning them to our under-served areas."

The program, when approved, will be offered in an online format to allow students to continue to work while completing the degree. For more information about the DeWitt School of Nursing, call (936) 468-7705 or visit