Paula Butts, the Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) at Piedmont Henry Hospital, got her start as a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Georgia Baptist Medical Center, which later became Atlanta Medical Center. Her experience in critical care includes trauma and open heart, cardiology, neurology, and medical/surgical among others. Her extensive career has given her good insight on what it takes to recruit and retain nurses and the answer often starts with education.
Butts joined Piedmont Henry as the CNO in 2017 and immediately began to strengthen partnerships with nursing programs at colleges, as well as local high schools that had students just starting to explore careers in healthcare. Over time, Butts placed a focus on continuing a nurse’s education at the hospital. This includes creating learning opportunities for international nurses who quickly learned Piedmont’s culture as well as the United States of America’s unique culture.
“It is important for us to create a welcoming environment for nursing students in college who do their clinical rotations at Piedmont Henry,” said Butts. “Many of the students we work with are from the area, and we want them to come to work for us upon graduation.”
In addition to providing an excellent place to do clinical rotations, Piedmont Henry provides clinical instructors for area colleges. The hospital has also made two floors a Dedicated Education Unit (DEU). The floors that make up the DEU have staff members trained to help with education and provide an opportunity for nursing students to experience the day-to-day role of a nurse, including charting within the electronic medical record. Students working in the DEU get a feel for what it’s like to be a nurse, specifically at Piedmont, and are often hired as nurses in the Piedmont system.
High school students in Henry County Schools also have an opportunity to come to Piedmont Henry to learn. The students in allied health courses get to shadow staff members and get exposed to various departments throughout the hospital. With different certifications available, these students can often start working at the hospital while they go to college pursuing careers in nursing or healthcare in general.
Recently, Piedmont Henry signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Henry County Schools and Gordon State College (GSC) to form the Community Innovation Partnership regarding a nursing pathway program for Henry County dual-enrollment students. The hospital’s medical executive committee donated $100,000 to the Gordon State College Foundation for nursing scholarships.
The mission behind the partnership is to provide a comprehensive approach to solving educational and economic developmental needs. The education partners will jointly benefit from increased student attainment and therefore increase graduation rates, student satisfaction, and engagement. Under the agreement, the dual-enrollment students will complete up to 60 credits towards their associate degree during their freshman through senior years through a combination of dual credit courses taken at one of the Henry County School District high schools and GSC. Program participants completing the program should finish their Associate of Science degree parallel with the completion of their high school diploma. Up to five Henry County dual-enrollment students who complete the program and meet the admission criteria will gain guaranteed admittance to the GSC Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program.
“We are excited to play a significant role in this program and help shepherd the next generation of nurses into healthcare careers,” said Butts.
Piedmont Henry also hopes to do more with Henry County Schools around their work-based learning program.
In addition to creating a pipeline of nurses from close to home, Piedmont Henry continues their recruitment of international nurses. The initiative began before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the first nurse in the program didn’t start at the hospital until July 2021. Since then, nearly 80 nurses have been added with a goal of reaching 115 total.
The nurses come from many different countries (Kenya, Ghana, Philippines, Bahamas, among others) and each one has at least five years of service as a nurse in their home country. The nurses work in departments throughout the hospital including surgical services, med/surg, critical care, and the cath lab.
Butts and other Piedmont officials have worked with the staff of several government officials in an effort to help make the VISA process quicker and to expand National Board of Nursing testing sites. Everyone has been receptive, as this program addresses a nursing shortage during a critical time by bringing in experienced and enthusiastic nurses.
“The orientation of our nurses coming to the U.S. is similar to bringing in a new graduate nurse; however, many of our international nurses are incredibly skilled and hit the ground running,” said Butts. “They are outstanding members of the team.”
For nurses, learning never stops. This is especially true at Piedmont Henry where unit-based educators and preceptors keep training nurses on best practices. The hospital also has a state-of-the-art simulation lab that allows nursing students and new nurses to practice handling some urgent situations outside of the heat of the moment.
“The lab elevates patient care by simulating real-life scenarios, including urgent situations. It provides a realistic experience using specialty mannequins that simulate a patient’s need for treatment,” said Butts. “Care providers and students respond to various real-world situations and practice their skills in a non-threatening environment.”
The Simulation and Training Lab has been a priority for Piedmont Henry as hospital leaders know there is always a demand for experienced healthcare workers. The project was supported by many engaged stakeholders in the community, particularly Marcia G. Taylor and The Taylor Foundation.
Piedmont’s purpose is to make a positive difference in every life they touch, and Piedmont Henry touches the lives of many new nurses through a commitment to education.
By Michael Boylan