Home Eliminate barriers: BRCC and Augusta Health partner to provide path for nursing degrees

Eliminate barriers: BRCC and Augusta Health partner to provide path for nursing degrees

Rebecca Barnabi
BRCC President John Downey and Augusta Health CEO and President Mary Mannix sign a partnership for the new ADN program. Photo by Rebecca J. Barnabi.

A “transformational moment” was witnessed at Augusta Health Thursday afternoon as Blue Ridge Community College and Augusta Health joined forces to provide a pathway for the next generation of nurses.

“What a wonderful moment for Blue Ridge Community College and Augusta Health,” said Augusta Health CEO and President Mary Mannix, who began her career as a nurse. “I’m excited about this partnership because I think it has the opportunity to be a win-win.”

The Associate Degree in Nursing will allow more students to pursue a degree in nursing. Mannix said that Augusta Health needs nurses, and the partnership with BRCC will reduce barriers for students interested in pursuing degrees in nursing.

“Workforce shortage is a real thing,” Mannix said of nurses and other healthcare groups.

However, nursing students face challenges in obtaining degrees: tuition and working while earning a degree.

“There’s direct and there’s indirect barriers as it relates to earning a degree,” Mannix said. And the barriers contribute to the workforce shortage in the area and challenges in caring for the local community.

Mannix said that BRCC’s vision is similar to Augusta Health’s vision.

“Through this agreement, I’m seeing long-term solutions on the horizon,” she said.

Augusta Health will be part of the BRCC instructional team and BRCC will be part of the Augusta Health family.

Crystal Farmer, Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at Augusta Health said the program is the fastest path toward earning an associate’s degree in nursing. Students complete courses and obtain work experience in two or three years.

The first group of students began classes this week.

“It was our desire with this program to minimize the barriers of completing nursing school for students in our area,” Farmer said. Students will be “emersed in our Augusta Health culture.”

Fifteen students per year will be accepted to receive $1,000 for out-of-pocket expenses and paid a monthly stipend. In their second year, the monthly stipend will increase. Then students will graduate and enter the workforce with zero to minimal debt, according to Farmer.

John Downey, BRCC President said the program will eliminate barriers and create community. Students will work at Augusta Health while attending classes at BRCC. The clinical experience at Augusta Health will enable them to be better nurses before they even graduate, and prevent typical first-day fears as nurses because they will have already worked in a clinical environment.

“We’re focused on trying to solve community problems through our mission of education and training,” Downey said. The partnership with Augusta Health will allow students to focus more time on their studies. BRCC’s goal is for 100 percent of students to pass their nursing exam.

Downey said that BRCC is also working with Augusta Health on the shortage of paramedics, medical coding staff and phlebotomists.

Dr. David Urso, Dean of Academic Affairs over the healthcare programs at BRCC, said students will attend one day of classes, one day of clinics and one day of lab work each week at the community college in Weyers Cave.

“This was a way to tell those students: ‘You know what? We’re in your corner. We want to take some of those work shifts away so you can study,’” Urso said. Students will be able to focus on studying instead of working overtime to pay their expenses.

Urso said the partnership is “monumental in terms of getting more students to that finish line.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.