To address a critical need for healthcare workers, the University of North Georgia (UNG) will expand its four-year nursing program to the Gainesville Campus in a move that eventually could double the number of UNG nursing graduates. The first cohort will begin in spring 2016, and applications already have exceeded the number of slots available.
"This expansion addresses a continued and significant need for qualified nurses in the region and state and will have an immediate and significant impact on health care quality and access in our communities," said Dr. Teresa Conner-Kerr, dean of UNG's College of Health Sciences & Professions.
The national shortage of registered nurses is expected to continue through 2030, and is projected to be most intense in the South and West, according to the American Journal of Medical Quality. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing says factors for the shortage include too few nursing faculty, an aging nursing workforce, the aging baby boomer generation that requires more healthcare, and high nursing turnover rates, sometimes due to factors such as inadequate staffing.
Dr. Kim Hudson-Gallogly, head of UNG's Department of Nursing, said the expansion means UNG will graduate 50 more registered nurses per year initially, with the eventual goal of the Gainesville Campus program's numbers matching the 120 who currently graduate from the program on the Dahlonega Campus each year. Three more full-time nursing faculty will also be added to support the expansion.
"Gainesville is a very medically-oriented area. This, coupled with projected nursing shortages nationwide and especially in the South, makes our Gainesville Campus a critical location for nursing education," Gallogly said. "This expansion is a direct response to help meet those current and projected needs. Also, the presence of so many medical facilities, including the top-ranked Northeast Georgia Medical Center, provides a number of opportunities for partnerships."
Currently, students on the Gainesville Campus who seek a Bachelor of Science in nursing must transfer to the Dahlonega Campus or another institution after their first two years of core instruction. The program expansion enables students to complete a full, four-year nursing degree on the Gainesville Campus.
The Department of Nursing plans to build a "virtual hospital" on the Gainesville Campus, which Gallogly said they hope to have finished by fall 2017. The virtual hospital will be an immersive, comprehensive nursing experience where students can practice a wide range of settings, to include: pediatrics, operating room, medical-surgical, labor and delivery, intensive care unit, primary care, and others.
UNG's nursing program has exceptional outcomes and a notable faculty that is responsible for increasing access to low-cost, high-quality health care throughout the region through its rural health care programs and clinics, Kerr said.
"Our program was the first to educate and provide nurse practitioners in this region, and we look forward to the added value the Gainesville Campus program and its graduates are sure to bring to the Gainesville and Hall County areas," she said.
The nursing expansion comes on the heels of the Gainesville Campus growing its two-year communications degree to a four-year degree, a move that was approved by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents in fall 2013. Since Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University consolidated in January 2012 to form UNG, the number of four-year degrees on the Gainesville Campus has increased from eight to 18.