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A race against the clock: Working to close the statewide nursing shortage

An aging, baby boomer workforce, longer life expectancy and a growing rate of chronic health conditions—it is the perfect storm to create a national nursing shortage throughout the U.S. 

Nursing students work together in the new simulation lab in Navicent Health Baldwin.

The nearly 3 million nurses nationwide are expected to be part of one of the fastest growing occupational groups between 2016-26, projected to add nearly half a million nurses in that decade. 

“We are in a significant nursing shortage,” said Tracy Blalock, chief nursing executive of Navicent Health. “We need to be creative and think of ways to better prepare students and to get them interested in nursing.” 

Part of addressing the shortage is the newly opened Georgia College School of Nursing Simulation and Translational Research Center at Navicent Health Baldwin, the brainchild of the university and Navicent Health. The space serves as a simulation lab for students, but also acclimates them to the health care industry—allowing them to see first hand the hustle and bustle of a hospital setting.

“A large factor during part of the process of creating the partnership was the nationwide nursing shortage and the very real reality of having a hard time recruiting nurses,” said Navicent Health Baldwin CFO Judy Ware. “These students will be working here through their education process, working side by side with our clinical staff. It’s our vision and desire that they’ll have a positive experience and walk away with that either back through our doors to employment or somewhere else in the health care sector.”

In particular, Georgia is in dire need of nurses to fill the growing gap of nurses. Of Georgia’s 159 counties, 108 are considered rural counties. For these rural, oftentimes underserved areas of the state, a rising gap in nurses can be a matter of life and death. Blalock said Navicent Health, which primarily serves 750,000 residents in the central and southern part of the state , keeps community at the forefront of their mission. It’s the same lesson she hopes students leave with when they walk out their hospital doors. 

“We think about what can we do for the community. It’s different because not every big organization does that. We actively think about how we can help, support and educate our communities and find ways to keep our patients in their own communities,” said Blalock. “I think our golden rule is to always treat others how we ourselves would want to be treated.”

Lorraine Daniel, director of nursing at Navicent Health Baldwin, has been with the hospital for 18 years, and she said this opportunity is unlike anything she’s ever seen. 

“We have taken clinical students before, but this takes it to a new level,” she said. “Here, students are able to interact in a classroom environment, mingle with other hospital employees and have the opportunity to get pulled into particular situations that might benefit them in a learning capacity.” 

Dr. Deborah MacMillan, director of Nursing Programs at Georgia College, sees the partnership between the hospital and the college as a symbiotic one. Navicent Health nurses will continually help nursing students fill hands-on learning gaps in their education, while the college provides continuing education and research development for the hospital. 

Nursing students in the Navicent Health Baldwin space.

“It’s hard to teach students everything they need to be competent on their first day of work,” said MacMillan. “One of the things I think is incredibly important to nursing in general is to create robust academic-practice partnerships.”

Blalock and Macmillan both said that students learning in tandem with simulation and the hospital setting give Georgia College students an edge as they enter into the health care industry after graduation. 

“Simulation has been used in teaching for decades because it allows for risk-free practice. It also provides the ability to teach, practice, and/or evaluate critical-thinking skills. The aviation, transportation and nuclear power industries have all used simulation to teach high risk skills and have seen improvements in safety related to this training,” said MacMillan. “Unlike a classroom setting or a paper-and-pencil test, simulation allows learners to function in an environment that is as close as possible to an actual clinical situation and provides them an opportunity to ‘think on their feet, not in their seat.’”

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