Emory Report
May 1, 2006
Volume 58, Number 29


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May 1 , 2006
SON,EHC Programs address U.S. need for nurses

BY Amy comeau & lance skelly

Facing a quickly aging population and an increasing need for health care services, the United States is experiencing a severe shortage of skilled registered nurses. But programs designed at Emory, both in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and at Emory Healthcare (EHC), are geared toward finding nurses—not only ready to serve at the bedside, but also to serve as professional nursing faculty to train nurses of the future.

First, some data: In six years, the country will be short more than a million nurses, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Even though enrollment at nursing schools increased by some 13 percent in 2005, qualified nursing students are being turned away in record numbers because there are not enough faculty to teach them. Last year 32,000 students were turned away from the nation’s nursing schools, including almost 50 percent of qualified students in Georgia.

Three years ago, the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing created the innovative Emory Summer Nursing Teaching Institute, a post-master’s certificate program designed to offer master’s-prepared clinicians a fast-track way to become skilled educators. The teaching practicum builds on nurses’ clinical knowledge and ensures they learn the techniques to deliver educational materials in a skilled, effective manner.

Since its inception in 2003, the institute has graduated 19 nurses who are now teaching at nursing schools and on clinical rotations throughout metro Atlanta and even as far as the Bahamas. Debra Griffin Stevens, department director for the mother-baby suites at Crawford Long Hospital, is a graduate of the institute and now teaches the professional development course in management at the nursing school.

“The most compelling reason to become a nurse educator is to work with the next generation of nurses,” Stevens said. “The teaching institute exceeded my expectations. I was taught principles of teaching and teaching theory, instructed on emerging trends, and learned how to stay current with educational reforms and changes in the nursing profession.”

“Faculty in nursing programs are a special breed of nurse,” said Professor Emeritus Helen O’Shea, who created and directs the program. “They have two distinct sets of skills: First, they are expert clinicians able to master clinical situations, and they also are skilled educators who are adept at the design of courses, utilizing various teaching and learning strategies, and selecting appropriate ways to evaluate learning and skills acquisition.”

Meanwhile, since 2000 EHC has added nurses to its own and other hospitals’ staffs through a successful “nurse re-entry program.” More hard data: The aging of nurses as a demographic continues to rise. In March 2004, the average age of the registered nurse population was estimated to be 46.8 years of age, more than a year older than the 2000 average age of 45.2 years and more than four years older than in 1996, when the average age was 42.3 years, according to the Georgia Nurses Association.

Responding to this shifting demographic, EHC’s nurse re-entry program hires qualified nurses who have been out of hospital nursing for more than four years and pays them to attend an eight-week training course, where they gradually work in units of their choice with a preceptor (a trainer within the unit) until they are comfortable working alone.

By the end of the program, nurse recruits earn more than 100 hours in classroom education and more than 200 hours of hands-on clinical experience. According to Marti Wilson, EHC’s manager of nursing special projects, the program has numerous positive aspects that benefit both patients and nurses.

“It allows us to identify and employ skilled nurses who have been out of the field for a number of years—whether it be to raise children or to pursue other career opportunities—and provide them with the classroom and clinical experience that will bring them up-to-date with current practices in the nursing profession,” Wilson said. “While in the program, the nurses are already receiving a paycheck and full benefits, which is another outstanding benefit to them and their families.”

In Atlanta, only Kennesaw State University offers a refresher course for nurses, Wilson said, providing 40 hours of class study and 160 hours of clinical time. Emory’s commitment to the re-entry nurse far surpasses the state board requirements.

“Georgia’s board of nursing is very strict in its protection of patients; it will not grant a nursing license to someone moving into the state, or reactivate a license that has been expired for four or more years without the refresher courses,” Wilson said. “We take ours yet another step in an effort to prepare our nurses to be successful in their chosen careers—and to be long-term Emory nurses.”

Started in 2000, the program is the brainchild of EHC Chief Nursing Officer Alice Vautier. The program is offered twice a year, and classes average 10–12 nurses. To date, more than 100 nurses have participated.

“It’s been an incredible success, and the nurses we attract and hire have a much higher retention rate because they are motivated to return to the profession,” Wilson said. “We feel like the nurse re-entry program at Emory is one way of attracting a talented pool of professionals, allowing us to offer them the re-education and clinical tools they need, while also providing important economic incentives. It’s a win-win for everyone.”