Gadsden, Ala. — Gadsden State Community College signaled the start of its new apprenticeship program for registered nurses during a signing event today on the Wallace Drive Campus.

The new program, which is the first of its kind in Alabama, became possible after the Alabama Legislature approved amendments to the Nurse Practice Act earlier this year. The program allows healthcare employers to enter into an apprenticeship agreement with a community college. Students who apply and are accepted as nurse apprentices serve as employees of the healthcare facility and work alongside experienced nurses. Gadsden State has entered into agreements with Riverview Regional Medical Center in Gadsden and Rehab Select in Albertville and Talladega.

“We are so excited about today and what it means for our College, our students and our community,” said Dr. Kathy Murphy, president of Gadsden State. “I want to thank Riverview and Rehab Select for their support and their willingness to come alongside us as we begin this partnership.”

During the apprenticeship, students will have the opportunity to grow their skills and competencies.

“This program is a wonderful opportunity for our nursing students to earn a wage while learning at the same time,” said Kenneth Kirkland, dean of Health Sciences at Gadsden State. “The nursing students will be assigned one-on-one with a journey worker who acts as a preceptor. The one-on-one teaching/learning experience is so valuable for the students.”

At Riverview, apprentices can get experience in medical/surgical units and behavioral care as well as in the emergency room and intensive care unit. Apprentices at the Rehab Select, which are long-term care facilities, will get experience in geriatric care, medical/surgical and behavioral health.

“There’s a tailored approach to each site,” Kirkland said. “It is an employer-driven business model that is competency-based, which can be completed with more flexibility than a time-based program.”

The program allows nursing students to attend classes and labs while working two to three days per week. The apprenticeship pays $15 an hour with a tiered-wage schedule as their competencies increase.

While Riverview and Rehab Select are the first employers with the Gadsden State RN Apprenticeship Program, Kirkland said the program will be offered to all clinical agencies that work with the College. He said that’s approximately 60 sites.

“Employers receive tax benefits for up to 10 apprentices,” he said. “This program benefits the employers as well as the students.”

Apprentices may continue their employment following the completion of the apprenticeship and passing the National Council Licensure Examination that certifies nurses. The apprenticeships help meet the high demand  for nurses across Alabama. Nurses are listed as one of the Top 25 highest demand positions in Alabama with more than 4,500 annual openings in the state for RNs and licensed practical nurses.

“This program is new and innovative,” said Josh Laney, executive director of the Alabama Office of Apprenticeships. “Not only is it the first of its kind in our state but it’s a relatively new concept nationally. A lot of eyes are on this program. I look forward to many years of success so that we can continue to help with the nursing shortage.”

The student apprentices recruited and employed by Riverview Regional Medical Center are Jennifer Chambers, Christian Matthew Cleghorn, Stephen Davidson, Maria Grace Dixon, Kalleigh Hansen, Lauren Hanvey, MyKayla Paschal, Tara Pearson, Hayden Smith and Rachel Stanfield.

“We are proud to assist in fundamentally training skilled and competent nurses,” said John Langlois, chief executive officer at Riverview. “These nursing students will be highly-valued employees, and they will be prepared to succeed. We will make sure they use the training they’ve learned at Gadsden State and the skills they will learn internally at Riverview to become successful nurses who are skilled masters in healthcare.”

Student apprentices for Rehab Select are Kasey Lynn Doughty, Marshall Grace Williams, Haylee Ann Wilson Shanna Renee Mullinax and Shayla Latriece Swain.

“I feel blessed and excited about this program,” said Bobby Stephenson, business development director for Rehab Select. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime. I’m not just representing Rehab Select. I’m also representing nursing homes from all over. This program is training nurses to care for clinically-complexed patients. I’m excited about the Gadsden State students who are coming to Rehab Select to learn how to care for these patients.”

The 14 students as well as Murphy, Laney, Langlois and Stephenson publicly signed standard documents that outline the RN Apprenticeship Program.

“What is expected of each of us is clearly defined,” Laney said. “All of us need to understand our roles and responsibilities and recognize the strong partnerships we are forming.”

Kirkland said it was a great day for Gadsden State, its students and its nursing program.

“Not everybody can say they are part of the very first class of the RN Apprenticeship Program but you can,” he said. “Congratulations. You should all be proud.”

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