DAHLONEGA - While it's no secret that the state and the nation are facing severe nursing shortages, couple that with the lack of educators to train new nurses and the situation becomes even more difficult.
According to figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Georgia is expected to face a shortage of 37,700 registered nurses by 2020. While the University System of Georgia produces 80 percent of the new registered nurses in Georgia, hundreds of applicants to nursing programs are turned down each year because of an insufficient number of nursing educators. At North Georgia College & State University, the master's of science in nursing education program aims to help lessen both shortages.
"There is a shortage of nursing faculty and I think if you look at the demographics, most full professors and associate professors are in their late 50s and even 60s and a lot of them are going to be retiring," Byrne said, adding that nurse educators with master's degrees also are needed in hospitals and businesses.
This Saturday, nine additional nurse educators will receive their degrees and two already have accepted job offers. Even before graduation, the group taught and mentored hundreds of undergraduate students at North Georgia, Brenau University, Emory University, Kennesaw State University, and North Georgia Technical College.
"These students network throughout the metro Atlanta area. We don't just keep them here at North Georgia; they are spread throughout the community. These graduate students will enable hundreds of undergraduate students' entry into practice," Byrne said. "Not only do nurse educators have to be excellent with their clinical skills, but they have to understand pedagogy and how students learn and know how to maximize that teaching time in the hospital. We talk about that -- how to get undergraduate students to think critically and think holistically and ask the 'What if?' questions."
Carrie Snead of Alpharetta earned both her associate's and bachelor's degrees in nursing at North Georgia and has been working full-time as a registered nurse in an Atlanta-area hospital while earning her master's in nursing education.
"It's not just nurses I want to teach," Snead, who was recognized as the top graduate in the program, said. "One of my favorite things about being a nurse is teaching somebody how to take care of themselves, making something really complex really simple so they can understand it."
Pam Noonan of Buford, who earned her associate's degree in nursing in 1976, already has been hired as a clinical nurse educator in the labor and delivery department at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.
"With 35 years of nursing experience, I felt well-qualified to be able to teach, but coming into the program and learning about education and nursing has broadened my horizons," Noonan said. "It has broadened my horizons more than I ever dreamed. It is empowering -- that is the main thing I've come away with from this program."
In addition to Snead and Noonan, those who will be receiving their master's degree Saturday are: Anne Jest, Stone Mountain; Janita Mastin, Cumming; Sue McGill, Alpharetta; Kim Naab, Woodstock; Suzan Paxton, Lake Geneva, Wisc.; Maryanne Russell, Hiawassee; and Brittany Smith, Toccoa. The group is the fourth to graduate from the nursing education program that started in 2006. This semester's commencement ceremonies are set for 2 p.m. Saturday in the Memorial Hall Gymnasium with acting Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Pat Donat as speaker.
Applications for entry into the master's in nursing education program are taken each semester. Though the program is taught mostly online, one face-to-face class meeting is held each week. The program takes four semesters to complete on a full-time basis, but also can be taken part-time.
For more information or to apply, visit the Department of Nursing website and the Master of Science in Nursing Education website. North Georgia also has associate's and bachelor's degree programs in nursing.