East Alabama Health Joins Apprentice Partnership

Auburn University student nurse apprentices with representatives from East Alabama Health and Alabama Office of Apprenticeship, sponsors of the program. PHOTOS CONTRIBUTED TO THE OBSERVER



During separate ceremonies in September, nursing students from Southern Union State Community College and Auburn University signed apprenticeship agreements with East Alabama Health.

The apprenticeship agreements followed each school — and EAH — signing a partnership agreement with the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship. The apprenticeship program will see students in the second semester of nursing school begin to work as employees of East Alabama Health and be assured of continued employment after graduation.

The students will each be paired with an experienced nurse, who will act as a mentor to their assigned apprentice. The apprentices will rotate working in the following units: Emergency Department, ICU, Med/Surg, Maternal/Infant and Psychiatry. The Southern Union apprentices will also gain experience in long-term care facilities.

The apprentices are working approximately 24 hours a week; this can be paid work hours, paid clinical hours or a combination of both. Those work hours are in addition to a regular caseload of classes at their respective schools. Apprentices will earn money through a progressive-wage model, with pay based on their classes completed and their competency levels.

Josh Laney, who is the director at the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship, attended both ceremonies and said the registered apprenticeship program for RNs and LPNs is now available across the state.

“This is the only state in the country that is doing this,” Laney said.

UAB School of Nursing Dean Dr. Maria Shirey (left) and UAB Alumni Board President Dr. Bryan Combs (center) present an award to Laura Grill, president and CEO of EAMC.

He also explained the state legislature had to pass a law to allow the board of nursing to create the license that the student nurses will achieve through the program.

“There are a lot of eyes on this program,” Laney added. “A lot of people across the country are looking to see how we pulled this off and how it’s going to work. We already had one cohort that started this summer that is going very well at a couple of other schools, and now the flood gates are opening. Everyone is joining this program because they’re seeing the benefit of it. We could not be more proud of how this program is shaping up.”

Both Southern Union State Community College and Auburn University will serve as sponsors.

“They’re entering into an agreement with us,” Laney explained. “What they’re committing to do is oversee this entire process. They’re committing to supervise the training, coordinate the placements and to make sure that everyone is getting the on-the-job learning that they are supposed to get, and the related instruction they’re supposed to get. East Alabama has joined under that sponsorship as a participating employer.”

Laney said the undertaking of a registered apprenticeship program in nursing pre-licensure and pre-degree is something that “we have been working on in Alabama for over two years. It has taken a lot of work and a lot of time to develop, and it has taken a partnership from a lot of different organizations. The community college system office has been a major supporter of this activity, but also the voices of our employers, the board of nursing, the nursing home association and the hospital association. Basically, all of those people got in a room and said, ‘Look, what we are doing is not cutting it. We still have a 35% shortage of nurses. Nobody is fully staffed. We are just absolutely drowning, and we’ve got to do something different.’”


The ceremony for the nine Southern Union nursing students took place on Sept. 19. Todd Shackett, president of Southern Union, welcomed the students and other guests, and spoke highly of the merits of an apprenticeship program.

“I have found throughout my career that work-based learning is one of the best ways to enhance your academic education,” Shackett said. “You can only simulate so many conditions here at the school. Your preceptorships and your clinicals are all geared to give you real-world experience, but they’re nothing like being in the career as a student.”

 “We are very excited about this program,” said East Alabama Health Vice President of Human Resources Susan Johnston. “I just learned today that we’re one of 10 organizations and apprenticeship programs that have been established since the first cohort started last spring. We would not be able to do this without our partnership with Southern Union, and with our friends at the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship who have been holding our hands all the way through.”

SUSCC nursing student apprentices stand with agreement partners.

Addressing the students, Johnston said, “An apprenticeship gives you more time; it gives you more on-campus learning. We are incredibly excited to have all of you at East Alabama Health, and we’re excited about your careers.”

In closing, Johnston was encouraging to the students as they start this new program, stressing, “You’re not guinea pigs; you’re trailblazers.”

After the students signed, SUSCC Dean of Health Sciences Rhonda Davis had some closing remarks.

“We appreciate our partnership with East Alabama Medical Center,” she said. “We would not have the programs we have if we did not have their support. That’s our No. 1 place for clinicals for all of our programs. One of the hardest things for our faculty to do is to trust people to teach clinicals the way we teach our students at school. It is because of our trust in East Alabama that we feel like we can do this and it will be successful.”

Laney, who oversees the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship, praised both Southern Union and East Alabama.

“We couldn’t be more proud that schools like Southern Union are willing to try something different and that there are students who are willing to try something different,” he said. “But it also comes down to the employer’s investment. None of this would be possible if we didn’t have employers like East Alabama that were willing to say, ‘OK, we’re willing to try something different. We want to invest in our people. We want to bring them on early. We want to give them the opportunity to learn, give them an opportunity to feel supported and to give them an opportunity to really engage with us on the front end of their education.”


Last Thursday, the apprenticeship signing for Auburn University students took place in the College of Nursing building. Like Southern Union, this nursing apprenticeship program is new for Auburn University. But not only does Auburn join Southern Union in being frontrunners in the U.S. in establishing a nursing apprenticeship, Auburn also holds the distinction of being the first four-year program in Alabama.

That’s a nice feather in the cap for Auburn, but Dr. Caralise Hunt, associate dean for academic affairs in the Auburn University College of Nursing (AUCON), said this program benefits students more than a traditional internship.

“For students who must work in addition to classes and required clinical hours in order to support some or all of their education, the apprenticeship program provides them compensation for completing clinical hours required as part of their academic degree program,” she said. “This could have two benefits since the compensation may allow them to stop working at other places of employment and focus on their education. They also complete clinical hours with a mentor, which gives them one-on-one instruction in the clinical setting.”

Hunt noted that the program also has significant benefits for healthcare facilities like East Alabama Health.

“Apprenticeship students are completing clinical hours and working as patient care technicians in their facility for four semesters before graduation so they become familiar with the policies and procedures, and that may decrease the time needed in orientation. They also have a commitment from the apprenticeship students to work in their facility after graduation. For AUCON, having students in the apprenticeship program means those students don’t have to be placed in a clinical group which, if the program is successful, may allow us to admit more students to the nursing program.”  

“This first cohort of apprentices with Auburn University and East Alabama Health is a perfect picture of the people these programs are being designed to help,” Laney added. “Expanding access for all Alabamians to high-skill training is a hallmark of apprenticeship.”

For East Alabama Health, Johnston said this apprenticeship program is much needed, and she is excited to join with Auburn as they become the first four-year school involved in the program.

“This is a huge initiative, and we’re excited to have Auburn on board with us,” she said. “We’re really in an enviable position here in Lee County with a nationally known school like Auburn in our backyard. Together with them and Southern Union, we feel like we’re blazing a trail that will help us overcome the nursing shortages in this part of the state.”


East Alabama Health encompasses East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, EAMC-Lanier in Valley, the Spencer Cancer Center in Opelika, the Auburn Medical Pavilion and a host of other key medical clinic and practices that help provide a continuum of care to patients throughout an 11-county area. EAMC is a 314-bed regional referral hospital with a 26-bed Skilled Nursing Facility, while EAMC-Lanier provides inpatient services as well as a nursing home, an acute rehab unit and an ambulatory surgery center. East Alabama Health employs about 3,500 employees and is the second largest employer in the region, trailing only Auburn University. For more information, visit www.eastalabamahealth.org.


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