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NursingStudentsinCNEOn May 24, 2016, the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center’s Area Health Education Center (SVHEC-AHEC) was awarded a $125,000 grant from the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRRC). Grant funds will be used to combat the regional nursing shortage by recruiting students into nursing education programs.

“SVHEC appreciates the opportunity to leverage Tobacco Commission funds with the Center’s AHEC resources to focus on a critical shortage of healthcare workers in the region,” said Dr. Betty H. Adams, SVHEC Executive Director. “We will work hand in hand with our educational partners and regional healthcare providers to increase student enrollment numbers in the exceptional community college and university programs offered across the region.”

Despite strong demand for nurses, current nursing program enrollment levels are not yielding enough nurses to fill open positions. Regional hospitals are facing a critical shortage of workers to fill open positions, and this trend is expected to continue.

According to Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital (SHRH) Chief Executive Officer Chris Lumsden, “SHRH relies on its excellent staff to meet the mission of improving health, and the nursing professionals Sentara employs are critical to this endeavor. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find qualified candidates to fill nursing positions in our organization.”

The SVHEC AHEC focuses on recruiting middle and high school students and adults to healthcare education programs, and works closely with regional education partners who offer those programs. With the TRRC grant funds, SVHEC AHEC staff will develop and implement additional, intensive recruitment strategies to attract students from the region into Associate Degree Nursing (ADN), Practical Nursing, and Nurse Aide programs offered by SVHEC partners Danville and Southside Virginia Community Colleges.

“The intervention at this stage is critical to alleviating the shortage of available nurses in our region. Without ensuring a robust pipeline of qualified students, we cannot expect an adequate pool of qualified nurses,” said W. Scott Burnette, Chief Executive Officer at VCU Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill, VA. According to Burnette, VCU CMH expects to hire 12-15 nurses in the next two years as they bring the new hospital facility on line.

“In the first year of operations, SVHEC AHEC recruitment efforts have already reached over 800 Southside Virginians. With this award, we'll be able to have even greater impact,” said Ann Switzer, SVHEC Associate Director of the Center of Nursing Excellence and AHEC program. With an increased number of nursing students regional healthcare facilities will have a richer pipeline to fill current and future workforce needs.

“Educational capacity exists, jobs exist, but student enrollment is not meeting demand. We have to find a way to recruit more of our young people into the healthcare pipeline. Our quality of life depends on it,” Adams said.

About the SVHEC-AHEC Program:

The Virginia AHEC Program is a federally funded initiative that aims to: (1) educate and train students to become culturally competent primary care health professionals who will provide healthcare in underserved areas and to health disparity populations; (2) increase the number and variety of primary care health professionals who provide care to underserved populations in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) and other medically underserved areas; and (3) recruit into health careers individuals from underrepresented minority populations or from disadvantaged or rural backgrounds. AHEC goals are aligned with the SVHEC’s mission to advance Southern Virginia’s economic potential through education, innovation, and collaboration.

The Virginia AHEC Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration Grant (#U77HP26289) for $815,999 (FY14). For more information on the AHEC at SVHEC, contact Ann Switzer 434-572-5443, toll-free 1-800-283-0098 ext 5443, or email annswitzer@svhec.org.