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Two Health Systems Supercharging the Future Nursing Workforce

smiling nurse with young patient
The nursing shortage is most acute in rural and urban underserved areas, where economic forces have already adversely impacted healthcare, education, and employment opportunities for communities. But there is a path forward. Learn how communities in rural Kentucky and New Orleans are forging innovative partnerships to supercharge nursing workforce development, provide vital support for local healthcare systems and ultimately strengthen the core of these communities.
Nursing News HighlightsNurses Leading Innovation

Two Health Systems Supercharging the Future Nursing Workforce

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The nursing shortage is most acute in rural and urban underserved areas, where economic forces have already adversely impacted healthcare, education, and employment opportunities for communities. But there is a path forward. Learn how communities in rural Kentucky and New Orleans are forging innovative partnerships to supercharge nursing workforce development, provide vital support for local healthcare systems and ultimately strengthen the core of these communities.
smiling nurse with young patient

The U.S. needs nearly 200,000 new nurses by 2030, and the nursing shortage is impacting healthcare nationwide. However, it is most acute in rural and urban underserved communities, where economic forces were already reducing education and employment opportunities.

Innovative, collaborative solutions are needed and two health systems – one in Pikeville, Kentucky and one in New Orleans, are demonstrating how it can be done. Learn how these two systems have knocked down barriers to partner with unique stakeholders and supercharge nursing workforce development, how they are building relationships, connecting dots and resources to drive real change that will benefit patients, families and stronger communities for decades to come.

Project HEART – Pikeville, Kentucky

The Kentucky Nurses Association estimates the Bluegrass State needs another 20,000 nurses by 2025. This is a state that already faces dire healthcare access challenges – Almost half of Kentucky's 120 counties — 48% — are maternity-care deserts, and 57 counties are designated as primary care deserts, impacting 1.5 million residents.

“When you look across the country right now, especially in rural markets, our way of life – especially when it comes to healthcare – is at risk,” said Donovan Blackburn, president and CEO of Pikeville Medical Center. “All executives in healthcare need to understand that this has to become a priority for them.”

Donovan Blackburn, president and CEO of Pikeville Medical Center
Source: Pikeville Medical Center

Eastern Kentucky did not have an educational pipeline capable of filling the region’s nursing shortage and also needed new educational, economic and employment pathways to support their community as the coal industry dissipated over the last few decades.

Project HEART is a collaborative collective of stakeholders, comprising the Kentucky legislature, Pikeville Medical Center, Galen College of Nursing and other regional educational partners, to develop an expanded nursing and healthcare pipeline to meet the region’s needs.

Led by Pikeville Medical Center (PMC) and Donovan Blackburn, Project HEART demonstrates the power of a like-minded team coming together to address a shared problem, each coming at it from their own perspective.

First, the government was able to invest in healthcare education – Kentucky governor Andy Beshear signed House Bill 200 in March 2023, by creating an innovative public-private partnership program to support scholarships and improve and expand high-need health care programs. Most of the funding goes to Kentucky residents pursuing healthcare training, and who will work in Kentucky for at least one year after finishing their program.

The legislation also allowed PMC to partner with schools to expand nursing programs and accelerate nursing education, such as adding Galen’s new LPN program.

The health system pitched in by offering Galen low-cost space for their LPN program within the hospital campus and providing students with clinical rotations and tuition support. They also worked to address the longer-term need for nurses and other healthcare professionals by partnering with local school systems and counselors to expose students to careers in nursing and healthcare earlier.

PMC Project Heart participants at meeting
Source: Pikeville Medical Center

The results have been impressive – the University of Pikeville Elizabeth Elliott School of Nursing doubled its enrollment from 60 to 120 and multiple nursing schools moved their programs onto Pikeville Medical’s campus, including the new LPN school with 100 seats from Galen College of Nursing, an expanded 50-seat nursing program from American National University, plus an additional allied health program, and a 45-seat partnership with Big Sandy Community and Technical College School of Nursing.

“I get a promised job for at least two years while my debt is being paid – that is a huge blessing,” said Emily Fairchild, ADN, a recent graduate of Galen’s nursing program. “Opening a nursing school in this area, that’s another blessing. There are so many of us, when we graduate, we have to leave home if we expect to be anything. Our families are here, this is where we want to be.”

Ochsner Health System – New Orleans, Louisiana

Like Kentucky, Louisiana also faces a dire nursing shortage. The Louisiana Board of Regents estimates a gap of 6,000 RNs, or 40% of the current workforce, by 2030. Ochsner alone has 800 open nursing positions, and other systems in the area also need hundreds of nurses.

Ochsner Health System saw the issue as a pipeline problem that required upstream attention. The health system has invested in expansive community partnerships spanning from K-12 to higher education, all focused on creating education and employment opportunities related to healthcare for their communities, while also raising the visibility and reach of Ochsner nurses to improve care access and quality of health in the region.

Through an innovative partnership between the Ochsner Health and the charter school Discover Health Sciences Academy, the two entities created the Dr. John Ochsner Discovery Health Sciences Academy. Educating approximately 700 students in kindergarten through 8th grade, the school helps meet a need for more science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in Louisiana.

Further, the system hosts a one-week summer program called STEM Pathfinder for students in 8th-10th grade, primarily on healthcare career exploration and interactive science education. Participants learn about various healthcare career tracks through mentorship from Ochsner professionals, and get hands-on learning opportunities, skills training and opportunities to experiment with science laboratory equipment.

“We’re trying to grab those students who aren’t necessarily saying, ‘I definitely want to work in healthcare,’ but maybe have an interest in science classes, they’re curious, maybe they’re interested in helping people,” said Stephanie Messina, community affairs manager for Ochsner.

STEM Pathfinder began at the Ochsner Baptist campus in 2021 and has now grown to four different regions and is in the process of pursuing expansion to a fifth location.

“We make sure that students can see a professional they can recognize; that they can see themselves being in the future,” said Rachel Thomas-Little, education outreach manager. “Our surveys show that more than half the students report they are more aware of careers in healthcare, and they’re more confident in their ability to go into healthcare.”

Ochsner’s approach to workforce development also reaches into higher education, partnering with Delgado Community College to create the Ochsner Center for Nursing and Allied Health. The health system committed $20 million to expand Delgado’s nursing and allied health education programs, including $10 million to cover tuition for Ochsner employees to pursue degrees and credentials in nursing and allied health programs.

Further, Ochsner has a partnership with the School of Nursing at Southern University on a state-of-the-art custom mobile health unit called the ‘Jag Mobile,’ which provides services to communities within a 50-mile radius of the Baton Rouge campus. The Jag Mobile provides improved access to care for Louisiana residents, supports clinical learning experiences for students and increases visibility of nurses of color in communities.

Southern University mobile healthcare bus
Source: Ochsner Health

“When we take that mobile unit out into the community, it not only builds public trust, but it also increases the pipeline of diverse nurses and clinicians of color,” said Dr. Sandra Brown, Dean of Southern University's College of Nursing and Allied Health. “When families or grandparents come with their grandkids or children, they see clinicians that look like them, and they see an opportunity. You see an African American nurse at the forefront of these nursing students, and it inspires them that they too can be a nurse.”

Innovation in Nursing Workforce Development

Through grants, scholarships, and expanded educational capabilities, healthcare leaders are increasing community outreach, education and training opportunities to develop the future nursing and healthcare workforce. Pikeville Medical Center and Ochsner Health System are shining examples of the kinds of partnerships across public, private and government entities that benefit patients, strengthen healthcare, and build stronger communities.


Learn more about Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to diversifying, supporting and developing the nursing workforce.

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