ORONO — Increasing resiliency and reducing burnout among University of Maine School of Nursing students, faculty and staff will be the focus of WellNurse, a new initiative made possible by a $1.5 million award from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to support and advance health and public safety workforce resiliency training.

WellNurse will be a research and interprofessional program in collaboration with the UMaine School of Food and Agriculture, Clinical Psychology Program, and New Balance Student Recreation Center. It will serve UMaine’s School of Nursing, which welcomed its largest first-year class of 115 students in fall 2021, and ultimately will be a model for health professional programs throughout the University of Maine System and beyond.

The three-year award by HRSA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is one of 34 nationwide. It is made possible by $103 million in American Rescue Plan funding to help health and public safety professionals, particularly those in rural and medically underserved communities, reduce burnout and promote mental health. The funding also supports training efforts that build resilience for health care professionals at the beginning of their careers.

The full list of Health Workforce Resiliency Awards is online at https://bhw.hrsa.gov/funding/health-workforce-resiliency-awards.

As part of the Health and Public Safety Workforce Resiliency Training Program, UMaine’s WellNurse will address a gap in developing and evaluating a systematic approach to reducing burnout and increasing resilience among students in nursing, says Kelley Strout, interim associate dean of health science, School of Nursing director and the principal investigator on the HRSA award. The initiative, focused on wellness in nursing education, will be key to supporting student success in the rigorous curriculum and ensuring on-time graduation, and in retaining faculty and staff.

A resilient nursing workforce can withstand burnout and the demands precipitating current workforce shortages, Kelley noted in the award proposal.

“We’ve seen unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety and burnout across the nursing profession related to working and learning in a high-stakes environment, while we continue to manage the additional demands generated from the pandemic,” says Strout, who is collaborating on the project with Rebecca Schwartz-Mette (co-investigator), associate professor of psychology, and Jade McNamara (co-investigator), assistant professor of human nutrition; and Joshua Bridges, assistant director of fitness and wellness at the campus Fitness Center.

Liam O’Brien, professor of statistics at Colby College, leads the WellNurse evaluation team.

To teach resilience-building skills, WellNurse will implement the evidence-based program, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), for all School of Nursing students, faculty and staff. Physical fitness and nutrition training, and peer mentoring also will be key. The three-year program will be the basis for a UMaine wellness, resilience and stress management curriculum in the School of Nursing.

The nationally ranked School of Nursing includes 413 undergraduate and 43 graduate students, 14 full-time and 37 part-time faculty, three professional and one administrative staff members. It has close partnerships with more than 200 clinical agencies statewide, including Northern Light Health, the school’s primary training site. During the coronavirus pandemic, School of Nursing faculty and students have been deployed to address the greatest health care needs in Maine.

This is the second HRSA award to the School of Nursing in the past seven months. UMaine received a four-year, $1.7 million grant to launch the initiative, Promoting Diversity in Nursing Education, in partnership with Northern Light Health and Morgan State University.