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Rx for the Nursing Shortage
Atlanta-area campuses boost capacity to graduate more nurses

To cure the worst nursing shortage in decades, the Atlanta region’s public and private nursing schools are employing a number of treatments. They are boosting enrollments, fashioning part-time programs and online courses for students who work, and adding graduate programs designed to increase the ranks of nursing faculty.

“The need for nurses keeps going up and up,” said Lisa Eichelberger, dean of Clayton State University’s nursing school. “We have been through cycles like this, but this one has lasted longer than most.”

The downturn in the economy has caused the job market in metro Atlanta to tighten some as seasoned nurses postpone retirement or re-enter the workforce after raising children. But the Georgia Department of Labor projects that the state will need nearly 20,000 additional registered nurses by 2012, while the federal Health Resources and Services Administration estimates that the shortage of RNs could jump to 37,700 by 2020 if supply does not increase dramatically. 

Beginning to Yield Results – and Nurses
In 2006, the University System of Georgia declared nursing “the most fragile and in need of attention” of the health care disciplines. It committed $3 million annually for three years with the goal of increasing the number of nursing graduates from selected University System of Georgia institutions by 50 percent. 

Students are still in the pipeline, but the numbers look promising that the initiative has paid off. The University of West Georgia reports having almost doubled the number of graduates eligible to take the RN exam and provide patient care.  Georgia State University substantially increased its undergraduate nursing grads since 2006 and almost doubled its master’s enrollment.

Private colleges are also doing their part to turn out more nurses. In the past five years, Brenau University’s department of nursing has doubled its undergraduate and graduate enrollment. Brenau, like other schools in the region, has no shortage of qualified applicants to choose from as Georgians consider second careers in nursing and first-time undergrads seek a marketable degree.  “Nursing still is a very viable career choice even in this economic time we are in today,” said Keeta Wilborn, chair of Brenau’s nursing department.

Shortage of Nursing Faculty
Ironically, the region’s nursing schools are turning away thousands of qualified students who could ease the shortage because they lack the physical space and the nursing faculty to take on significantly more students. Growth is also limited by the number of sites where nursing students can get the firsthand clinical training they need as hospitals and other health-care facilities cut budgets during the recession.

But the chief reason the region’s nursing schools can’t accept more applicants is that they simply don’t have enough faculty members to teach them. They face the prospect of having even fewer in years to come. The University System, whose schools train 80 percent of the state’s nursing graduates, reports that almost 40 percent of its nursing faculty are 55 years or older and could potentially retire in the near future. Many faculty members at private and technical colleges are also approaching retirement age.

“There has been a lot written about the shortage of nurses. One thing that has not been emphasized as much is the lack of qualified faculty,” Wilborn said. “We just don’t have the folks coming along to replace us.”

The region’s nursing schools are ramping up their efforts to identify students drawn to teaching and provide new opportunities for them to earn doctoral degrees. The University System of Georgia opened its tuition assistance program to help part-time nursing faculty seek an advanced degree and become full-time faculty. USG’s ICAPP (Intellectual Capital Partnership Program) is launching a program for fiscal years 2011 and 2012 to recruit bachelor’s educated nurses as full- or part-time faculty while they complete an online master of science for teaching.

In fall 2009, Mercer University’s Georgia Baptist College of Nursing began offering a new Ph.D. program. Its first six students will focus research on ethics, clinical scholarship or nurse education. Kennesaw State University’s WellStar School of Nursing also admitted six students to a new doctor of nursing science program this fall. Their research will relate to health care for medically underserved populations. Both programs have online components, allowing students to continue drawing paychecks while seeking their degrees. 

Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing has begun partnering students with bachelor’s-prepared staff nurses working in the Emory Healthcare system. Students get the supervision they need, and “It also exposes staff nurses to the joys of teaching,” said Linda McCauley, dean of Emory’s nursing school. “If you follow this logic, maybe staff nurses will come back and get their Ph.D.s.”

“There are always people who love to teach,” she added. “Our job as deans is to find those individuals who can practice but who want to educate first and foremost.”

By Ann Hardie, 2009

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Spotlight on ARCHE Nursing Programs

Brenau University Department of Nursing, Gainesville
Brenau University’s department of nursing doubled its enrollment to 300 students over the past five years. The school draws students from a 100-mile radius of its Gainesville campus. Students can take advantage of full-time, part-time or online programs. Three years ago, the university began offering a master’s track for students who want to be nurse educators. Last year, it added a graduate track for nurse administrators. Graduates of the family nurse practitioner master’s program qualify to be health-care providers for families and individuals of all ages.
Clayton State University School of Nursing, Morrow 
A new program will allow RNs without baccalaureate nursing degrees to fast-track their education and earn their bachelor’s and master’s in nursing at the same time. The RN-MSN program offers nursing education and nursing leadership tracks. In 2007, the university redirected $200,000 in funds to open a new lab and boost admissions by 30 percent – about 200 undergraduate and 20 graduate students currently are enrolled in the nursing school. In fall 2009, the school expanded its simulation lab and created a “hospital room” labor and delivery unit.

Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Atlanta
From its beginnings 100 years ago as a training school in a 50-bed hospital, Emory’s nursing school now graduates more than 200 baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral students annually. It has begun partnering students with prepared nurses in the Emory Healthcare System. The hope is that nurses discover a love of teaching and decide to pursue advanced degrees. Nursing faculty are also being recruited for joint appointments to teach as well as continue their clinical work. In 2010, the school will launch an accelerated bachelor’s and master’s curriculum for students holding bachelor degrees in fields other than nursing who want to seek a career as an advanced practice nurse. 

Georgia State University’s Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing, Atlanta
The 40-year-old nursing school has boosted admissions in recent years and now has more than 500 students in its undergraduate and graduate programs. Since 2006, the school has increased its number of baccalaureate nursing graduates by 50 percent and nearly doubled its master’s enrollment with an eye toward producing more advanced practice nurses. An $800,000 federal grant is funding a new master’s tracks in nursing administration and informatics. GSU has also expanded its psychiatric nursing track to include a nurse practitioner role to help patients in the state’s psychiatric hospitals. 

Kennesaw State University’s WellStar School of Nursing, Kennesaw
Kennesaw State’s nursing school now educates students in Rome and Jasper as well as in Kennesaw. A total of 500 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled in bachelor’s and master’s degree programs that include accelerated and online coursework. A new doctor of nursing science program designed to increase the ranks of nurse educators and scholars admitted its first six students in fall 2009. They attemd on weekends so they may continue earning their paychecks while working toward their doctorates. In 2010, KSU opened a new health sciences building that will allow it to increase the number of nursing graduates from 185 to 250 annually.

Mercer University’s Georgia Baptist College of Nursing, Atlanta
The Georgia Baptist College of Nursing, founded in 1902, merged with Mercer in 2001 and now educates approximately 430 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students on the university’s northeast Atlanta campus. This fall, the nursing school began a doctoral program designed to ease the shortage of nurse educators. Six students from Georgia and other states will perform their Ph.D. studies on campus and online, allowing them to continue working and giving candidates from rural areas the opportunity to continue to serve their communities. Doctoral research will focus on ethics, clinical scholarship or nurse education.

University of West Georgia School of Nursing, Carrollton
Approximately 350 students now seek their bachelor’s in nursing at West Georgia’s main campus in Carrollton and locations in Newnan, Dalton and Rome. The school offers two master’s programs: one for nurse educators, the other for nurse managers and clinical nurse leaders. With the Carrollton nursing program bursting at the seams, the university received $1.4 million in state funds in April 2009 to design a nursing building. A new state-of-the art building would accommodate the school’s growth and include a virtual hospital with simulated patients for nursing students to treat, simulation suites and smart classrooms to educate nursing students for 21st century practice. The University System of Georgia is seeking an additional $16.9 million to construct the building.

Several collaborative programs extend nursing ed opportunities to other campuses as well. Agnes Scott College now has a five-year dual-degree program in nursing with nearby Emory University. And University of Georgia pre-nursing students can transfer to the Medical College of Georgia School of Nursing at Athens.

Further Reading
University System of Georgia Center for Health Workforce Planning and Analysis

Nursing Education Task Force of the University System of Georgia, Annual Report, 2006-07 (PDF)

Final Report: Task Force on Health Professions Education, Findings and Recommendations, June 2006 (PDF)

Georgia Workforce Trends in Brief: Employment Projections to 2012 (PDF)

The Registered Nurse Workforce Shortage in Georgia (PDF)

Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation (Carnegie Foundation) 


University of West Georgia
offers nursing in Carrollton, Newnan, Dalton and Rome.

Second Career
An Emory feature highlighted students studying for a second career in nursing.
Clayton State University
expanded its simulation lab and created a labor-and-delivery unit.
Emory students and faculty
visit Moultrie to provide care for migrant workers.
More nursing professors
Georgia Baptist College of Nursing at Mercer is adding PhD programs to train new nursing professors.

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