Her training to be a nurse was all about what goes on inside the hospital, Amanda Reed said.

“Just looking back at my nursing education, we had very little to zero talk or education in the ambulatory setting,” said Reed, referring to primary care clinics. “So we didn’t do a clinical rotation. I didn’t even know what the (nurse’s) role was in ambulatory care.”

Now the ambulatory nursing supervisor at Essentia Health-Grand Rapids Clinic, Reed said on Friday that she still sees a deficit in training for nurses in primary care. That’s a concern for her boss, Dr. David Herman, the CEO at Essentia Health, who said primary care - not what happens in hospitals - is the fastest-growing part of what Essentia does.

Herman was speaking on Friday at a news conference in the Science Center at The College of St. Scholastica, where a grant was announced that will be used to better prepare the school’s nursing students for primary care, particularly in rural communities.

The four-year, $2.76 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - the largest grant in the college’s 107-year history - will enable St. Scholastica “to advance its leadership role in addressing the critical RN primary care work force shortages in rural and underserved communities,” said Colette Geary, the school’s president. Essentia Health is in a partnership with Scholastica on the project.

The news conference took place in an appropriate setting: a nursing lab among enthused St. Scholastica and Essentia personnel and silent CPR mannequins.

After a year of planning, the grant will be implemented for incoming nursing students in 2019, said Sheryl Sandahl, interim dean of the St. Scholastica School of Nursing. In addition to classroom instruction, all nursing students will be assigned clinical rotations in primary care settings, and some will do their “capstones” - a longer and more intense clinical assignment - in those settings.

The emphasis on primary care will be a sea change in how nursing education is done, Reed said.

“This is huge,” she said. “This is just eye-opening in that future RNs are at least going to understand the concept of what an ambulatory nurse is.”

Because that’s not currently the case, filling primary care nursing positions is a long-term process, Reed said.

“You find applicants with zero to no experience in ambulatory care, so their orientation and training periods are extensive,” she said.

Cindy Kent, Essentia’s chief nursing officer, said she’s hopeful that will change in this region, an important goal as the medical profession focuses more on prevention and wellness.

“It’s nice to see the focus on that specialty of ambulatory care nursing, because those nurses are the ones that are working with the patients to keep them healthy, to educate them about their health,” she said. “It’s imperative. We have to move that way.”

The grant was one of 42 awarded, and the only one in Minnesota, Geary said.

With a thousand students, Scholastica’s School of Nursing is the second largest in the state, behind only the University of Minnesota.