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Penn receives record $125 million donation to establish tuition-free nursing program

2021 Nursing graduate Anthony Scarpone Lambert during a clinical simulation on Feb. 10, 2021.

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

Penn announced on Monday he has received a record $125 million donation from Wharton graduate Leonard Lauder, which will be used to support a new tuition-free nursing program.

The Leonard A. Lauder Community Care Nurse Practitioner Program will recruit and prepare a group of nurse practitioners to work in underserved communities across the nation. The donation is the largest ever to an American nursing program, according to Penn Today, and aims to address the nation’s shortage of primary care providers and increase healthcare equity.

Lauder, who graduated from the University in 1954, serves as chair emeritus of the multibillion makeup and beauty conglomerate Estée Lauder Companies. Lauder and his family have given extensively to Penn in the past, including multimillion donations to create and renovate the Lauder Institute and large contributions to the construction of Lauder College House.

“Now more than ever, the country needs greater and more equitable access to quality primary care — and highly skilled nurse practitioners are the key to making that happen,” Lauder said in a Feb. 14 press release.

Working with underserved communities is part of the School of Nursing’s mission, Nursing School Dean Antonia Villarruel told The Daily Pennsylvanian. The donation will help the school further its goal, Villarruel said, adding it will provide an opportunity for nurse practitioners to get an education that is “debt-free.”

The program consists of a two-year, rigorous primary care nurse practitioner program at the Nursing School, which houses an undergraduate program that placed first on a 2021 US News & World Report ranking. The Nursing School will select 10 program fellows who will begin taking classes this fall. The school has an annual target enrollment of 40 fellows by 2026, and 140 nurse practitioners students will have been enrolled by 2027.

Penn will also appoint a Leonard A. Lauder Community Care Nurse Practitioner Professor who will oversee curriculum innovation, support of community sites, and implementation of the program.

Fellows must show a commitment to working in underserved communities and promoting health equity, according to the press release. Participants will complete at least half of their clinical education at partner sites that provide direct patient care and will have to commit to serving in an underserved community for at least two years after graduation — when they will enter the workforce free of graduate school debt. Fellows who demonstrate financial need will still receive stipends that can help with living expenses.

“We’ll be preparing a mass number of people who individually and collectively can make a big impact in how healthcare is being delivered,” Villarruel said. She hopes the initiative will attract students who want to help underserved communities and have not had access to a Penn education.

Nurse practitioners are qualified to serve as primary healthcare providers and manage a patient’s overall care and conditions — a role amplified amid the shortage of physicians during the COVID-19 pandemic. They can supervise aspects of care ranging from patient diagnosis, to ordering and interpreting tests, to prescribing medication and providing preventative care.

“This is the most timely and consequential gift not only for our university but for our country,” former Penn President Amy Gutmann said in the press release. “Growing the number of nurse practitioners who are prepared and committed to working in underserved areas is the most practical and inspiring way to ensure a healthier country.”

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