Piedmont Scholar program addresses nurse shortage

LAWRENCEVILLE - Three Gwinnett residents have been selected for the Piedmont Scholarship program in an attempt to tackle the critical nurse shortage in Georgia.

In a cooperative move between Mercer University's nursing college and Piedmont Hospital, 12 participants from the metro Atlanta area will begin clinical training in January. Three Gwinnett residents - Lynne Sycamore, Lisa Giles and Stephanie Morton - are among the 12 nursing students participating in the program.

Georgia is expected to need 80,000 nurses by 2020 with the current estimate of only supplying 48,000 at that time, according to Piedmont Hospital's Web site, www.piedmont.org. The scholarship program will help recruit, educate and ultimately place more nurses at Piedmont and in the community at large.

"I had always wanted to be a nurse," said Sycamore, a charter Piedmont Scholar from Duluth. "When I reached my middle 30s I knew I should go ahead and do it. I felt I could wake up every day and feel what I was doing was making a difference."

Sycamore changed from a successful IT career to nursing, a trend that Piedmont Hospital's chief nursing officer, Barry Hawthorne, has seen increasing recently.

"Many people are making second career options. I see a lot of people entering the work force who are older," Hawthorne said. "It's a recession-proof job. People always get sick regardless of what's going on in the economy."

When Sycamore changed from an established 12 year career in computers to a field requiring her to return to school for four years and quit her job, her family and friends reacted differently.

"Some people thought it was a great idea, and some people thought I was absolutely crazy," Sycamore said. "I told them although I was good at what I did and I liked working in IT, there was something missing."

Morton of Snellville was initially a massage therapist for five years at a sports rehabilitation facility but also switched careers.

"I'm more comfortable with Western medicine," Morton said. "I had more of an interest in the scientific aspects of massage therapy, and I liked the research and science aspect of it."

Morton said she liked the dynamic and energy of the medical professionals she worked with and wanted to be a part of it, and following graduation next December she will join the nursing team at Piedmont.

Snellville resident Lisa Giles will also join Morton and Sycamore at Piedmont following the completion of her course work. At 22, Giles is a more traditional student and said she was inspired by a high school teacher to work in the medical field.

"I always wanted to do something that made a difference and when I tried (nursing) I knew I loved it," Giles said. "I also like working with the homeless and would like to help people who are not always in hospitals."

Giles, along with the other scholars, had to have more than just academic excellence to be chosen to participate at a program involving a hospital like Piedmont, which is ranked as one of the top 100 hospitals in the nation by Solucient.

"They want intelligent students but they want compassionate and motivated

students," Sycamore said. "They have to meet all those criteria."

The inaugural 12 selected for the program are not composed of only traditional college kids. They wanted a diverse group of students, so some are 40, parents and have had careers - reflective of a professional nursing body, Morton said.

"It's not just for sweet, tender-hearted people," Morton said. "(Nursing) requires a lot of intellect, critical thinking and a lot of autonomous decision making."

Hawthorne expects Piedmont and Mercer to continue to partner in future endeavors. Another collaboration in development is the establishment of a research consortium. Piedmont Hospital offers an environment conducive to hands-on research, which faculty and staff need for a variety of purposes.

"I think this partnership will be the program to watch and if you come back in two years it will have evolved," Hawthorne said.