Gadsden State Nursing Students hired as apprentices at Rehab Select show off their jerseys at the signing day celebration.
This nursing education model, a first for Alabama, will benefit students and healthcare employers.
Apprenticeships have long been the gold standard of training for U.S. workers in many fields—now, nurses are among that group. Gadsden State recently kicked off a unique Nursing Apprenticeship program in Alabama that will extend new opportunities to students and help fill critical gaps in the nursing workforce.
While other nursing apprenticeship programs in the U.S. provide post-graduate residency programs, this apprenticeship is the first of its kind to allow students to learn on the job beginning in their second semester of college.
With legislative amendments to the Nurse Practice Act, employers can now enter into an apprenticeship agreement with a community college to hire RN and LPN nursing students. For their participation, employers receive tax credits for up to 10 apprentices. Students receive a progressive wage to work under the 1:1 guidance of an expert nurse preceptor while meeting course requirements.
“This model will absolutely change the way we do nursing,” says Kenneth Kirkland, Dean of the School of Health Sciences at Gadsden State Community College. For students, earning a wage while completing their education removes barriers to entry into this high-demand field. In addition to fulfilling clinical hours on the job, students have a commitment from employers to cover outstanding expenses that scholarships do not. In other words, the employer provides “the last dollar scholarship.” Wages for students start at $15 an hour and increase with the progression of competencies. For many students, this program means they no longer have to choose between providing financially and the ability to complete a degree.
(From left) Kenneth Kirkland, Dean of School of Health Sciences at Gadsden State Community College; Meredith Smith, Project Manager at the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship (AOA); Dr. Kathy Murphy, Gadsden State President; and Josh Laney, Executive Director of the AOA, are instrumental in establishing and leading the new Nursing Apprenticeship program.
For employers, the Nursing Apprenticeship strengthens employee retention.
In traditional models, students don’t carry a full patient load until the fifth semester, so the workload when beginning a job can be overwhelming for new graduates. In contrast, nurse apprentices will likely come to the job equipped to succeed because they’ve already achieved a comfort level with an employer’s culture, processes, technology, and organizational standards. “They are more likely to remain successful during their post-licensed period,” Kirkland says.
The new model means they can begin their career with one core focus: patient care. “I really believe they are going to be a lot more confident in their ability to be a nurse after they’ve graduated than in other traditional models,” Kirkland says. This increased confidence is likely to help new nurses with job satisfaction, positively impacting employer retention.
Meanwhile, employers who need nurses now get the chance to develop and onboard future employees over a period of time rather than all at once – essentially, growing their own superstars. “There’s a lot of research out there about how onboarding should be individualized to help nursing students flourish in their roles,” Kirkland says. This level of relationship building fosters the kind of mutual trust that impacts retention.
Rehab Select is proud to be an employer partner in this endeavor. “We believe this program represents a tremendous opportunity to strengthen clinical training, which will positively impact not only our organization, but long-term care across our state,” says Bobby Stephenson, business development director for Rehab Select.
In June, Rehab Select signed four nurse apprentices. Signing day was a chance to celebrate the culmination of years of hard work and recognize the milestone for students, families, and advocates for this program. The program has already kicked off with 20 nurse apprenticeships and several employer partners. Employers can learn more about this program and contact the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship for more information on participation.