The Emory School of Nursing has secured federal funding to support CRNA students who are willing to serve in underserved communities. By providing incentives for employment in these areas, we can address the shortage of CRNAs in rural counties of Georgia and beyond. This initiative has the potential to make a meaningful impact by ensuring access to quality healthcare for all individuals, regardless of their geographic location.
The nursing shortage in the nation presents a challenging situation for both care providers and patients nationwide, but the Southeast region is particularly hard-hit. Every state in the Southeast not only faces a low nurse-to-population ratio but also grapples with a high prevalence of rural areas.
Within these circumstances, nurses find themselves stretched thin or taking on additional responsibilities, especially advanced practice registered nurses such as certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs). In rural areas, the shortage of CRNAs leads to fewer surgical procedures, increased patient travel and wait times, and deteriorating patient outcomes. These challenges further contribute to the ongoing problem of nurse burnout.
Help may now be on the way. To increase the number of CRNAs in the Southeast’s most underserved communities, the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded a grant to Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing as part of its Nurse Anesthetist Traineeship Program.
“Nurse anesthetists contributing to these communities play a crucial role, frequently acting as the primary anesthesia provider or one of a limited number, emphasizing the significance of their expertise and the diversity they bring to their representation,” said Erica Moore, DNP, CRNA, and assistant director of Emory’s CRNA program, in a statement announcing the grant. “We are excited to be a part of this grant, which will make a difference among our students and communities.”
The CRNA Shortage: Rural Challenges
According to the 2023 Environmental Scan from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), each Southeast state employs fewer than 1,000 nurses per 100,000 people. Georgia, in particular, is one of only three states to employ fewer than 750 nurses per 100,000 people. As a result of the shortage, the state also received one of the worst care delivery and population health rankings, according to the 2023 Scorecard on State Health System Performance.
As with most Southeast states, Georgia’s rural regions suffer the most. Of the state’s 159 counties, 120 are rural and have only 59 hospitals between them. That limited access to care can be disastrous for many rural Georgians already facing higher rates of chronic disease and increased health risks because of lifestyle behaviors.
Many anesthesia responsibilities fall on CRNAs in rural areas across the country, exacerbating the situation. This can be particularly challenging in Georgia because it has 25% fewer CRNAs than the national average. It also is one of 12 states with major scope-of-practice restrictions for CRNAs.
CRNAs in Georgia need a supervisory physician for certain tasks and treatments. With poorer wages and opportunities for physicians in rural areas, however, many regions struggle to employ and maintain these professionals. For example, nine Georgia counties have no physician, let alone an anesthesiologist.
Yet, the situation could change at any moment, and the field needs to be prepared. More than half of all states have granted CRNAs full practice authority, and many of Georgia’s healthcare organizations, including the Georgia Association of Nurse Anesthetistsare urging the state to follow suit.
Emory School of Nursing Receives Grant: Help Where It Matters Most
In the Southeast, HRSA and Emory are working together to enhance services in rural regions. The Emory School of Nursing enrolled over 200 students in its three doctor of nursing (DNP) programs in 2023. To further support education in the nurse anesthetist DNP program, HRSA’s grant of more than $142,000 will benefit approximately 60 additional students over the next four years.
In order to encourage future CRNAs to seek employment in underserved communities, Emory will allocate the HRSA funding as scholarships for students who plan to take on permanent roles in rural counties. This program also aims to embrace disadvantaged and underrepresented students, fostering diversity among the next generation of CRNAs from Emory.
Additionally, students will gain valuable clinical experience in these rural areas. Kelly Wiltse Nicely, Ph.D., CRNA, and the director of the Emory CRNA program, believes that this initiative will bring long-lasting benefits to both the program participants and the hospitals where they complete their placements.
According to Nicely, “This program will provide students with experiential learning opportunities in health equity, culturally competent care, and social determinants of health. It will establish meaningful connections between the communities we serve and the students who will soon become the healthcare providers in those communities.”