More Students Are Pursuing
Health Care Careers

July 9, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Community Foundation awarded more than a half-million dollars in scholarships for the 2007-2008 academic year, and health care majors were among the top recipients.

The foundation didn't set out to award more scholarships this year to students majoring in health care, even though with ongoing construction on the

Michigan Street
hill, the need for physicians, health care workers and nurses is more urgent than ever.

It has a little to do with supply and demand, said Roberta King, the foundation's vice president of public relations and marketing. On the supply side, some of the foundation's general scholarships have wide-open criteria, while others are open only to students pursuing degrees in specific fields.

"The demand side is that there are just more kids that have decided recently to pursue health care because it's such a lucrative field and the jobs are out there," King said.

The general scholarships are for students in KentCounty, and the foundation uses them more often to fund high-demand areas of study, such as health care.

In a way, the situation brings Grand Rapids Community Foundation back full circle. The foundation began awarding graduate-level scholarships in 1945 to nurses to draw them back to the Grand Rapids area because there was a shortage of nursing specialists in the community, King noted.

This year, of the 522 scholarships awarded, 40 percent were to health care majors, she said. The foundation awarded $515,900 in scholarships, an increase of $8,800 from last year. Of the total amount, $88,476 in scholarships went to health care majors, for a total of 84 scholarships in all. The awards ranged from $250 to $5,000, with an average scholarship amount of $1,000. Scholarships are based on need and merit.

With the development of Grand Rapids as a major medical center, the need for aspiring health care professionals will continue to grow, said Ruth Bishop, director of the foundation's scholarship program. Bishop said new scholarship funds are being established all the time. A recently established fund sets aside one $2,500 scholarship award specifically for a medical student.

"If there were more funds of that nature directed at med school students or health care students in general, then, obviously, we would be able to make more of those awards," Bishop said.

Why are more young people choosing careers in health care? Their reasons vary.

Grace Murphy, a nursing student at HopeCollege, was awarded a Virginia Valk Fehsenfeld Scholarship, which gave her $1,000 in financial support per year for the first three years and $1,200 each year for the past two years. Murphy is working at Spectrum Health this summer and will receive her bachelor's degree in December. Murphy said she made up her mind to pursue nursing in high school. At the time, her grandmother was dying of cancer and Murphy spent a week by her bedside in the hospital.

"That experience made nursing a reality to me," she said. "It also just seemed like a very practical thing I could practice anywhere in the world if I decided to go abroad."

Noah Smith, who just graduated from the pre-med program at the University of Michigan, received scholarship awards from various funds through Grand Rapids Community Foundation, which totaled some $8,000 over the course of four years. Smith said the study of science has always appealed to him. Some later experiences in clinical research and as a hospital volunteer helped him decide on a career in medicine.

"Those experiences reinforced and solidified my interest in science and in continuing to pursue it," Smith said.

Emily Hautamaki enters her fourth year in the U-M nursing school this fall. By the end of her senior year she will have received a total of about $11,000 in scholarships through Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the various scholarship funds, such as the Virginia Valk Fehsenfeld Scholarship, that the foundation handles. Hautamaki said went into nursing because she liked the idea of being with people at the most vulnerabletimes in their lives to comfort them and help them take care of themselves. She grew up with her grandmother, who was a school nurse and a positive influence on her life.

"I've always wanted to be a nurse," Hautamaki said. "I've never wanted to be anything else. In my heart, it's who I am."    

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