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Nursing careers essential for Georgia

Competent, compassionate nurses can make all the difference in our health care. They work in hospitals, clinics, homes and hospices, and without them we’d be lost.

That’s why I’m glad that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and recognizes National Nurses Week (May 6-12) with a “Celebrating Nurses” section in Sunday’s paper and special write-up of Nursing Excellence Awards winners.

After all, if you were introduced to Kristen Earley, Milton High School valedictorian of 2006, who has studied at Berry College and Emory University to become a nurse, you’d want to tell her she’s made a good career decision.

And if you needed the nursing crew at Emory University Hospital, where my oldest daughter is an emergency department R.N., or the nurses at Grady Memorial Hospital or any other Georgia hospital, you’d thank them all for learning the nursing skills needed to keep you alive.

And if you talked to science-minded middle and high school students hoping to help humanity, you’d want to mention the benefits of a nursing vocation for both males and females.

We need all these people — current nurses and lots of new nurses — because our state faces a severe nursing shortage. A study from the University System of Georgia’s Nursing Education Expansion Plan (NEEP) states that while “an adequate supply of registered nurses is essential to achieving quality, accessible health care for all people,” we face a shortfall of 16,400 registered nurses this year and 37,700 by 2020.

The nursing shortage presents challenges. First, we must reach more students such as Kristen, the graduating nurse from Milton, who says she was teased by bright classmates for “stopping at nursing” instead of wanting to become a doctor. The idea that nurses aren’t as smart as doctors is outdated.

Indeed, nursing today is a profession seeking intelligent, hardworking students of all ages able to grasp sciences such as anatomy and pharmacology; perform clinical work in areas such as acute care, pediatrics, labor and delivery, psychology, and community care; and pass the NCLEX — a comprehensive exam for the licensing of registered nurses.

But Georgia nursing also needs people and places to teach and train aspiring nurses. The Georgia NEEP study, submitted by the Nursing Education Task Force in September, notes that faculty shortages, constrained budgets and a lack of clinical training sites are “stressing the health care delivery system” around our state.

It’s also essential that our best hospitals have enough money to hire and train our excellent new graduates, who may go on to advanced degrees and service in other medical areas, including becoming nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants and nursing instructors.

New graduates like Milton’s Kristen Earley are the face of Georgia’s nursing future. With coordinated efforts among our educational institutions and governmental and private sector support, we can make our state a preeminent place for excellent health care. Recognizing and appreciating the vital work of our wonderful nurses is a great place to start.

Veronica Buckman lives in Milton. Reach her at

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