The Atlanta area, like most of the state, is dealing with a shortage of registered nurses as many nurses get ready to retire.
While some hospitals are offering nurses large signing bonuses, Cobb County is trying a different approach.
A Regional Need
Cobb County Chamber of Commerce's Workforce Development Manager Rob Garcia III said that, within a 20-mile radius of the city of Marietta, his group found a shortage of nearly 30,000 nurses. That number is expected to increase as baby boomers age and the region struggles to hire nurses.
"This is beyond Cobb," Garcia said. "This is a regional need and there's already a shortage of registered nurses and it was what we deemed the most imminent because for Cobb, health care is one of the fastest-growing industries and right now is when nursing is starting to face that retirement cliff."
So the Chamber is helping hospitals and health care companies work with educators to try to get students as young as five years old interested in nursing.
Since August, it's held a series of meetings and study groups to connect industry executives and managers with teachers and professors to let them know what skills companies are looking for and find ways to update what's being taught in the classroom.
"We are trying find ways to connect students as early as possible with career paths and ideally really begin to pipeline education toward some of these careers and jobs, engaging businesses in the education process, informing curriculum to connect with the next phase of job training," Garcia said.
A Comprehensive Solution
Garcia said starting with elementary school teachers to bring the idea of nursing into their classrooms is the most comprehensive, though admittedly long-term solution, to meeting the growing demand for nurses.
He said he understands parents may have concerns about businesses having too much influence in the classroom.
"We have been very careful and mindful to make sure the schools that are involved with this are not compromising what education should be about, because of course, education is more than just job readiness and skill development," Garcia said.
"It's also broadening your horizons and teaching you critical thinking. So the goal is not to overhaul education with this effort but the goal is to develop an infrastructure within education that students can choose to engage in that will put them on a track to better prepare them for a career as soon as possible and develop those skills along the pipeline."
Not Enough Nursing Faculty
Dr. Rachel Myers teaches nursing at Kennesaw State University. She said recruitment is not enough and a more holistic approach needs to be taken to address the nursing shortage.
She said Kennesaw State University is having to turn away many nursing student applicants because there aren’t enough spaces.
She said it’s tied to not having enough faculty members to teach nursing.
Many professional nurses take a significant pay cut to accept a teaching position. But she said even that’s just only part of the problem.
“Even if we were to get 20 more faculty so that we could recruit 100 more students every semester, we don't have enough clinical places out in the community to put students,” Myers said.
Myers said if there were more places available for students nurses to get hands-on experience, she thinks the attrition rate would be lower.
“We need to emphasize how we work on retaining the nurses that do get recruited,” Myers said. “As a professor I try really hard to prepare my students for the real world, because so many times, within the first year of graduating, a large percentage of them quit."
Myers added many students face culture shock transitioning from school to hospitals or don’t find enough guidance and support during their first year.
WellStar, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Kaiser Permanente are some of the companies working with Cobb County schools and colleges to promote nursing careers.