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September 9, 2002

Education partnership fights nursing shortage

By Cindy Sanders

A recent study by the Georgia Hospital Association showed that from 1999–2001, the number of vacant registered nurse positions in Georgia grew more than 25 percent. In an effort to combat those frightening statistics, Emory Hospitals (EH) and Georgia Perimeter College (GPC) have introduced Emory Scholars.

The two-year program, which began in January, offers students the opportunity to join the nursing field and gain valuable hands-on experience with on-the-job training and nurse mentors. Enrolled students receive scholarships to GPC from EH and graduate in two years with a registered nurse (RN) degree. Upon graduation, they become EH employees and repay their scholarship with service.

Program participants also have the opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience through employment opportunities and externships at EH while attending school. These positions are made available to the students throughout their education at GPC.

“It’s great to learn theory in class, but it’s the real-life experiences you learn in the field that are so valuable,” said student Angelique Davenport. “Everyone at Emory is so eager to share in their experiences, and these life-lessons are things that can’t be taught through a textbook.”

One of the most exciting and unique aspects of the program is nurse mentoring. EH staff nurses are assigned to individual students and maintain contact throughout the program.

These nurse mentors share their experiences, answer questions and provide support the scholars need to successfully begin their nursing careers. Ideally, these relationships will continue beyond their formal terms.

Many of the students in the program are not “traditional” students; they are adults who have worked several years in previous jobs. Davenport, a resident of Loganville, worked another job for six years but always wanted to go back to nursing school.

“My mom is a cardiac nurse in Ohio, and I have always wanted to follow in her footsteps,” said Davenport, who already was a student at GPC when the Emory Scholars program began. “I had only heard good things about Emory and jumped at the chance to be a part of [this].

“I have had the best experiences at Emory and GPC, and I’m so excited about working for Emory Hospitals after graduation,” she continued. “The learning environment goes way beyond the classroom, and everyone at Emory is willing to share in his or her experiences.
I learn something new every day.”

With an economics degree under her belt, recent GPC graduate and Clarkston resident Traci Rucker had to give up her job in order to make a career change to nursing. She participated in the Emory Scholars program during her last semester at GPC and said the scholarship allowed her to concentrate on her studies while gaining important hands-on experience through externships.

“Everyone knows nursing is not easy, and in order to be successful you must be willing and able to put forth the time and effort to succeed—you must put your life on hold,” Rucker said. “Our class lost students who had to choose between work and school; the scholarship was a way to avoid having to make that choice.”

Not only does Emory Hospitals finance students’ educations, it also builds a support community to create an environment with which the students will want to stay involved throughout their careers.

Students are expected to participate in community events and recruitment activities throughout the duration of the program. By sharing their experiences with high school students and community members, they will help the program grow.

“I love the community involvement,” Davenport said. “I participated in a Stop Stroke Saturday screening hosted by Emory Hospitals, and I saw one of the participants in the grocery store a couple of weeks later. She recognized me from the event and was still thankful she had the opportunity to learn about stroke and receive a free screening.

“For me, that’s one of the things I love about nursing: it is reciprocal. It’s my job to make my patients feel better, but in turn they make me feel better every day.”

Officials with Emory Hospitals and GPC see the program’s value and potential, and will present it this month at the National League for Nursing Summit Conference in Anaheim, Calif., as a national model to address the nursing shortage.

“The Emory Scholars program is just one of the many innovative and successful nurse recruiting initiatives we have undertaken,” said Alice Vautier, chief nursing officer and associate administrator for Emory Hospitals. “We are delighted to partner with an institution the caliber of GPC, and we are very impressed with the enthusiasm and determination of the students.

“I believe that nursing is a wonderful profession, and every day I see staff that love nursing,” Vautier said. “I believe that students like these will be the future, and the future is in good hands.”