Emory Report

 October 6, 1997

 Volume 50, No. 7

New nursing school program
trains high-risk practitioners

The School of Nursing's new perinatal nurse practitioner (PNNP) clinical specialty was funded by a $700,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Emory's program, underway this fall, is one of only five in the country.

In general, perinatal nurse practioners are trained to care for high-risk pregnant women. They can do complete histories, physicals, work-ups, ultrasounds, lab tests, assist in developing care plans, make rounds, write orders and assist in surgery. The specialty track began at Denver's Regis University about five years ago. A shortage of medical residents encouraged the university to look for alternative professionals. The hospital received numerous referrals of women with complicated pregnancies from hospitals throughout the Rocky Mountain region.

Other PNNP programs are in Chicago, Philadelphia and Houston. Judy Schmidt, coordinator of Emory's program, said Georgia's high infant mortality rate (ranked 48th in 1994) made it a good candidate for this program. Schmidt noted that the problem is pervasive throughout the state, but the areas in greatest need are Dublin, Macon, Columbus, Savannah and Albany.

"In contrast to some of the other programs, our high-risk population is not just in [major cities] but also out in rural areas," said Schmidt. There's a shortage of nurse practioners in those areas because most graduates stay in the cities in which they've trained. "They have been working as students, and people get to know them and want to hire them," Schmidt said. "Many people who go to grad school with the intention of going back to their hometowns never get back there."

So Schmidt gave her program a distance learning component. "We needed to give people an opportunity to participate even if they don't live close enough to attend college here," she said. "The people currently serving these women understand the problems in their own areas. They know the perinatologists, OBs and social workers." These distance learning students will perform rotations near their homes, watch lectures on video or via the telemedicine site, interact with professors and classmates on the Internet, and come to campus only once or twice a semester.

Candidates for the program are nurses who have one to two years' experience working with high-risk pregnant women. Schmidt has seen considerable interest in the specialty from nurses all over the state. "This is the first time we've been able to offer the average nurse who likes working with high-risk women a graduate-level nurse practitioner role," she said.

"Formerly, nurses working in a high-risk unit who wanted to go to graduate school had to change their focus to women's health or become midwives, who generally accept more normal deliveries. This track gives these nurses something to look forward to in their own specialty."

-Jody Brown

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