Apprentice nurse program helps alleviate nursing shortage

November 21—MOULTRIE, GA — Thanks to two new federally funded grants, technical college students whose career paths are in high demand now have access to additional funding and training opportunities as apprentices.

The Apprenticeship State Expansion (ASE) Grant is a federal grant from the United States Department of Labor, which was awarded to the state of Georgia to promote the creation of registered apprenticeship programs throughout the state. The Office of Workforce Development of the Georgia Technical College System administers the ASE grant.

The Apprenticeship for Economic Recovery (AER) grant funds apprenticeships that improve the skills of the Georgian workforce in careers in sectors key to the state’s economic recovery, such as healthcare, manufacturing and transportation. This grant is federally funded through the State Fiscal Recovery Fund of Georgia and allocated to the State of Georgia through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

Placing qualified candidates in health care careers like nursing is one of the main goals of the two grants, according to a press release from the Southern Regional Technical College.

Georgia’s statewide nursing shortage has reached critical levels during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Colquitt Regional Medical Center chief nursing officer and vice president of patient services Dena Zinker, MSN, RN, NE-BC, FACHE. Before the pandemic, the medical center typically had fewer than 10 nursing positions open. During the pandemic, that number grew to over 100 nursing job openings. Zinker said her nursing team has stepped up and taken great pride in providing exceptional care to their patients without relying on travel nurses to cover the shortage.

“Our nurses didn’t want us to bring in traveling nurses,” she said. “They showed up and they showed up so we never had to. They worked incredibly hard and cared for the patients. One of Colquitt Regional’s proudest moments during the pandemic was been that all staff stepped up to take care of our community.”

In addition to not relying on traveling nurses during the pandemic, Colquitt Regional has continued to expand its facilities and staff over the past two years. Zinker attributes much of the hospital’s nurse staffing success to a proactive approach to recruiting and training partnerships. Colquitt Regional offers external nursing internships for nursing students in their final year of nursing school, as well as nursing residencies for recently graduated nurses. The external program is an observational experience that puts nursing students at the bedside of a registered nurse to give them a better understanding of what it means to be a nurse. The nursing residency program builds on the foundations of nursing school with advanced practical training and rotations similar to medical residency programs. Together, these programs prepare stronger, more confident nurses who are equipped to care for critically ill patients earlier in their careers, according to Zinker. They are also a powerful recruiting tool.

“Our staff are great ambassadors for our establishment,” Zinker said. “We know that if we can bring these students to our institution to work shoulder to shoulder with our staff, we can win their hearts.”

Since beginning the apprenticeship partnership with SRTC in July 2022, Colquitt Regional has recruited 14 Southern Regional Technical College (SRTC) students and recent graduates as nursing apprentices. Extern nurses, resident nurses, and licensed practical nurses interested in earning their associate degree in nursing can take advantage of the apprenticeship program. Apprentices can use grants for work- or school-related expenses, including certification tests, tuition and college fees, nursing equipment and uniforms, childcare, and reimbursement mileage.

Zinker said the apprenticeship program is an added benefit that makes extern and residency programs even more attractive to nursing students and recent graduates. In addition to grants, student nurses receive mentorship from Colquitt Regional nurses. Zinker said his veteran nurses take these mentorships seriously.

“Our nursing staff recognize the value of the program and how different it is when a nurse graduates from these training programs; how much better prepared nursing graduates are to join our team at the end of the program,” she said.

“It’s hard to walk into a room and say, ‘I’m going to be your nurse today,'” she said. “This program strengthens them as nurses. They come out of the program much more ready to start their careers.”

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