Leaders from the UC Irvine Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing, UC Irvine’s Susan & Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences, CalOptima Health and Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley gathered on Wednesday, June 6, to celebrate a $5 million grant approved by the CalOptima Health Board of Directors for the NURSE-OC program. In addition to participating in the check signing ceremony, attendees toured the school’s state-of-the-art simulation center.

The new NURSE-OC program aligns with the school’s strategic plan by enabling training for a diverse population of nursing students and expanding the workforce available to deliver quality care for Orange County’s most vulnerable populations. The grant is part of CalOptima Health’s Provider Workforce Development Initiative, which aims to address health disparities and better secure the future delivery of medical and behavioral health care for vulnerable residents.

NURSE-OC will offer externships to 60 prelicensure nursing students and residencies to six graduate students pursuing Family Nurse Practitioner and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner licensure. The externships and residencies will include a specialized curriculum to educate the future clinicians about Medi-Cal members’ social support needs beyond traditional health care. The five-year program will aim to recruit more than 50% of participants from underrepresented groups or low-income backgrounds to promote a workforce that represents CalOptima Health members. NURSE-OC participants will receive a financial stipend and networking support to find work with CalOptima Health provider organizations upon graduation.

“Our Provider Workforce Development Initiative is intended to increase access to high-quality,
equitable care for our members by investing in the education of students,” said Michael Hunn, CEO of CalOptima Health. “Seeing UCI’s commitment to an industry-leading education for future caregivers is exciting. I have worked with nurses throughout my career and admire how they blend knowledge and compassion to serve vulnerable patients. Our Medi-Cal members will be in good hands, especially with the NURSE-OC specialized training on social support needs and whole-person care.”

“The NURSE-OC program emphasizes excellence and dignity in addressing nursing workforce shortages, with the goal of fulfilling the critical need for providers in Orange County,” said Mark Lazenby, Dean of the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing. “Our diverse student body reflects the communities in which they serve, and this grant will support the program’s goal of advancing health care equity and expanding access to the most vulnerable populations.”

“Nurses and nurse practitioners are the backbone of our health care system,” said Supervisor Katrina Foley, Orange County Board of Sup ervisors, Fifth District. “In consideration of health care worker shortages, this $5 million CalOptima Health grant invests in the next generation of nurses and nurse practitioners in Orange County by offering financial support during their training in exchange for a pledge to work in our community. Maintaining public health relies on a sufficient workforce committed to patient-centered care. I extend my gratitude to CalOptima Health and UCI for their pivotal role in safeguarding the well-being of Orange County families.”

“This grant is more than financial assistance; it is a vital investment in the future of healthcare. It empowers me to become a skilled and dedicated nurse, ready to tackle the challenges of the nursing shortage and enhance healthcare access for Orange County’s vulnerable populations, said nursing student, Sana Mutalib. “I am deeply grateful for this opportunity and committed to making a positive impact in our community through my nursing career.”