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Benjamin Foundation Celebrates 10th Year of Support to UVI Nurse Extern Program

University of the Virgin Islands nursing student and instructor work with mannequin on the Albert A Sheen Campus on Saint Croix

The Bennie and Martha Benjamin Foundation is celebrating the 10th Anniversary of its commitment to the Student Nurse Extern Program and its partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands’ School of Nursing, the Schneider Regional Medical Center and Juan F. Luis Hospital.

The Benjamin Foundation’s Student Nurse Extern Program provides training to UVI nursing students and prepares those students to easily adapt to the hospital setting once they are licensed. The foundation has donated more than $280,000 to the hospitals in the territory to support the program.

“The Bennie and Martha Benjamin Foundation is a steadfast supporter of the UVI Nursing Program,” said Mitchell Neaves, UVI vice president of Institutional Advancement. “David Beale, as executive director of the foundation, and Tina Beale, as grant administrator, are extremely passionate about fulfilling the mission of the foundation through providing much needed resources to enhance the clinical delivery system within our community.”

Forming the Nurse Extern Program was based on a need to find ways to keep nursing graduates in the territory after graduation, said David Beale, Benjamin Foundation executive director and board secretary. Before the program was implemented in 2005, most nurses left the territory after graduation. “Training good nurses at UVI and having them leave for the mainland was inconsistent with the foundation’s mission to improve healthcare in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” he said.

“We helped formulate a program where some students could be paid externs at the hospital during the summers as actual employees and be able to rotate among various areas of nursing services such as emergency room, the intensive care unit, maternity, surgery, etc.,” said Beale, adding that each extern has a mentor to help them. “In this way the students become familiar and comfortable with the hospital and look forward to being hired upon graduation. At the same time, the hands on experience at the hospital helps the student externs better understand their nursing subjects and become better students with more confidence.” He said that within a few years after the program started, the retention rate of graduate nurses in the territory went from 15 percent to approximately 90 percent.

The Bennie and Martha Benjamin Foundation, formed by St. Croix native and nationally acclaimed songwriter Claude “Bennie” Benjamin, has donated over $780,000 in scholarships and grants for educational materials and equipment purchase to UVI since 1992. “It was Bennie’s dream that the people of the Virgin Islands receive the highest quality medical care,” said Beale. “Through our partnership with UVI and the University’s partnership with the hospitals on St. Thomas and St. Croix, the University is helping to fulfill Bennie’s dream and the mandate of the foundation. Bennie never forgot where he came from and we hope to impart that message to the students of today who are preparing for careers in the health services.” 

This year, the Benjamin Foundation, has partnered with the University to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of nursing education with reunion events scheduled on May 15-16, on St. Thomas and on May 17-18, on St. Croix. The theme of the celebration is “Caring and Making a Difference.”

Scheduled events range from beach parties to formal dinners at Government House on St. Thomas and St. Croix. As part of the reunion, there will be a Bennie and Martha Benjamin Reception at 6:30 p.m. on May 15, in the Grand Galleria upper level of the Grand Hotel on St. Thomas. This event is by invitation only. For more information and a list of events, visit the Nursing Reunion page on the UVI website at or from this direct link.

 “We would not be where we are today without the Bennie and Martha Foundation,” said Dr. Judith Grybowski, Nursing Reunion event coordinator and CVI/UVI professor emerita. “The foundation has been generous. Our partnership exists beyond the financial support and is deeply appreciated.”

Beale said that the Bennie and Martha Benjamin Foundation’s goal is for the territory to have the best medical facilities, the latest technology and equipment and the best trained healthcare professionals.  “We are in a much better place today because of the long-term, consistent support we receive from the Bennie and Martha Foundation,” Neaves said.