A national shortage of nurses is causing a strain on hospitals managing an influx of COVID-19 cases.
While a shortage of nurses is not a new problem, according to Carolyn DeSandre, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professions at the University of North Georgia, the issue has been made more apparent by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fortunately, nursing students at UNG are getting the hands-on learning they need to step in and help immediately after graduation. Some of them are already on the front lines supporting full-time healthcare providers.
DeSandre said the university has partnerships with several healthcare systems that get students working in a hospital room before they even graduate.
“Our students are already starting to fill the gap. This semester we have 100 percent of our baccalaureate degree program nursing students working at these hospitals,” said DeSandre. “Our first-year students, a large portion of them are going to go to Northeast Georgia hospitals specifically to help facilitate some of the nurses’ work there…we have about 90 of our students enrolled in that program.”
DeSandre said the 90 students at Northeast Georgia Health System hospitals are a part of the department’s Designated Education Unit. These students work directly with nurses in a two student, one nurse model to provide patient care.
This program started with 25 students in spring of this year, then expanded to the current 90 spots in the fall semester. Through this program, students have an opportunity to get experience in specialized areas of healthcare.
“Our students will be in ICUs, in emergency rooms, in NICUs, in medical surge floors, anywhere they need the help, we will be there to help them out,” said DeSandre.
The hands-on experience is not limited to students further along in the program. DeSandre said first-year nursing students also work at NGHS hospitals for “ancillary support.”
“They’ll be doing things like spending time with the patients, helping with personal hygiene needs, feedings, basic intake, vital signs, things of that nature that will just support the system as a whole,” said DeSandre.
DeSandre said yet another 60 students are in their final semester are currently in their practicum, the final, most intense course, at a Northside Hospital facility.
Some of the other healthcare systems that partner with the university include Piedmont Healthcare, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Wellstar Health System.
Outside of their studies, students in the four-year nursing program are helping to administer COVID-19 vaccines at Department of Public Health vaccine sites, as well as the university’s vaccine clinics.
One hundred students are accepted into the university’s nursing program each semester. While the number of graduates for the fall 2021 semester remains to be seen, around 200 students will graduate in total by May 2022.
When they do graduate, DeSandre said the majority of will start their career at a local hospital.
“Based on our statistics that we collect here at the college, about 80 percent of our graduates stay here in the North Georgia region to practice,” she said. “So we have a fairly large number that stay local.”