Pine Rest Honors First Graduates of its Academy for Nursing Students

August 24, 2023

The Pine Rest Academy relieves financial burden on students while establishing new nurses in West Michigan

Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services celebrated the first graduates of the organization’s Academy for Nursing Students at an employee ceremony held Tuesday, August 22.

Launched in early 2022, the Pine Rest Academy for Nursing Students is a partnership between Michigan’s largest behavioral health provider and several educational institutions across the state, intended to address nursing shortages while helping students complete their nursing degrees.

Students accepted into the Pine Rest Academy receive up to $40,000 ($10,000 per semester) toward their nursing program tuition at partner colleges and universities. In exchange, participants agree to accept a full-time role at Pine Rest for two years after receiving their nursing license. Pine Rest additionally offers students valuable patient care experience during their nursing program through a role as a psychiatric technician, a position that allows them to work side-by-side with Pine Rest nurses in inpatient and residential settings.

“Many people in our community have the compassion, aptitude, and desire to become a fantastic nurse,” said Gretchen Johnson, DNP, MSN, RN-BC, chief nurse executive at Pine Rest. “But, for some, the cost of tuition is the largest barrier to pursuing a career in nursing. The Pine Rest Academy allows us to relieve that financial burden and offer a new pathway to reaching their goal.”

The Pine Rest Academy for Nursing Students not only benefits students, but also positions Pine Rest to best serve the future needs of the Michigan community.

“With the Pine Rest Academy, we started to think a little bit differently about how we can add to the healthcare field,” Dr. Johnson stated. “The academy brings new nurses into an extremely high demand field. Plus, with projects like the Pine Rest Pediatric Behavioral Health Center on the horizon, we will need even more nurses, and our academy allows us to connect those who have the desire to serve with the education and experience to fill that role.”

Jessie Penning, RN, one of the two inaugural graduates of the Pine Rest Academy, highlighted the positive impact of the program on her career path after she joined at the midpoint of her nursing program at Calvin University.

“During my year at the academy, I got financial assistance for nursing school, and I received experience and pay for my work as a psych tech, which helped support me through my time as a student,” Penning said.

“Before the Pine Rest Academy, I wasn’t entirely sure what area I would focus on as a nurse. The program was the push I needed to choose Pine Rest and behavioral health nursing. The fact that I get to care for people – to offer hope and healing during a crisis, one of the hardest periods in their lives – it’s just incredibly rewarding, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

Pine Rest expects three more nurses to graduate from the program in December 2023. A total of 35 nursing students are currently accepted to the Pine Rest Academy for Nursing Students and will graduate in the next two years.

Pine Rest continues to focus on expanding the program through partnerships with additional colleges and universities. Current participating educational institutions include:

  • Calvin University (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Cornerstone University (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Davenport University (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Grand Rapids Community College (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Ferris State University (Big Rapids, MI)
  • Grand Valley State University (Allendale, MI)
  • Hope College (Holland, MI)
  • Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI)
  • Montcalm Community College (Sidney, MI)
  • University of Detroit Mercy (Detroit, MI)

Pine Rest Nursing Academy Graduation Ceremony: 8/22/23

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