It’s not news that we have an acute nursing shortage across the entire length and breadth of the United States. Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas, reported a nurse shortage of 500. On NBC nightly news with Lester Holt, Parkland also said that they have temporarily closed labor and delivery to devote more space to treat COVID-19 patients. Our local hospital has fared no better. Scott Steiner, President and CEO of Phoebe Putney Health System reported an estimated 300 nurse shortage at Phoebe Putney Health Systems and a 20,000 nurse shortage in Georgia.
One of the consequences of this shortage is postponements of elected surgeries and other non-life-threatening procedures. Diversion of patients away from the hospitals closest to their homes and families is another. However, fatigue and burnout of nurses, physicians, and other health care professionals may be the most critical and detrimental of them all, yet still represent only a small part of the consequences that continue to stem from this ongoing problem.
This fix is not simple. Next year, Albany Technical College can only graduate those associate degree students who are currently halfway through their education. Qualified teaching faculty is scarce. Clinical space is limited. We can only achieve marginal increases in performance in the short run. However, we should do all that we can to ensure that high school students are ready to compete for spots in upcoming classes. Our long-term chances to fill these skill gaps increase only if we prepare secondary students for collegiate work.
Most students who are selected to enter a nursing program have the academic acumen to do well. I’ve worked at four colleges during my forty-three-year career. Each of those colleges has a nursing program. It’s been my observation that unsuccessful nursing students drop out or change majors within the first year. Unfortunately, I have no evidence beyond observation. However, my informed guess is that they are overwhelmed by the work required to complete the program successfully, especially for the first year. I’m not advocating for a reduction in the rigor of the curriculum. However, I am advocating for preparing the candidate in a manner that provides a better chance for success.
Albany Technical College has implemented a program for high school students that we feel prepares them to succeed. The Associate of Applied Science Interdisciplinary Studies program gives high school students access to approximately forty percent of the ASN curriculum and a nurse aid certificate. Students who earn a grade B or better in identified courses will not need to retake those courses if they immediately enroll at ATC. A student earning a C in a college course while in high school will likely do better if they retake it in a traditional college setting.
Interdisciplinary studies graduates may not reduce the time from initial enrollment to completing an ASN or BSN. However, students can likely reduce their course load during their first two semesters in a college or university. Most importantly, students who earn an AAS in Interdisciplinary Studies while in high school may likely be more persuaded to attend a local college or university. Suppose they earn a Registered Nursing credential from Albany Technical College, Albany State University, Georgia Southwestern University, or Andrew College. In that case, they will more likely be employed by a health system or physician’s office in Dougherty or a nearby county.
The long-run solution is to grow our own talent. I sincerely believe that any high school student from our seven-county service delivery area who wants to become a nurse should enroll in Interdisciplinary Studies at ATC. When we appreciate and nurture their talent, we can all expect long-term loyalty to our region as a result.