CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — Every state in the nation is facing a critical shortage of nurses, but help is coming. Tuesday in West Virginia, a unique program was launched, that could make a difference. The national nursing shortage got worse during COVID-19, but now we may be turning a new page.

It was signing day for the new Aspiring Nurse Program, a joint venture of WVU Medicine Thomas Health, and Bridge Valley Community and Technical College. Much like athletes signing letters of intent for college, this involves a statement of commitment. In exchange, the student receives a two-year nursing degree, often supported by financial aid. The student then receives $25,000 over four semesters, to pay for personal expenses such as childcare or rent.

Upon graduation, students must work at WVU Medicine Thomas Health for three years.

“I actually was unable to get any financial aid, so for me it’s indescribable how much it means to me. It’s all going towards my education, and it’s changed my life honestly,” said Amanda Franklin, a new nursing student.

On Tuesday, the first nine nursing students were enrolled.

“It’s an investment in nursing. It’s also an investment in the community, as many of these students grew up here, have families here and will hopefully settle,” said Dr. Greg Rosencrance, President, WVU Medicine Thomas Health.

This is the first program of its kind in the state, but it is anticipated the Aspiring Nurse Program will expand to other partnerships with colleges and hospitals all across West Virginia.

The West Virginia Hospital Association says the Mountain State has a nursing vacancy rate of nearly 20%. Last year alone, 1,700 nurses in the state did not renew their licenses.