Colleges not producing medical professionals fast enough - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Colleges not producing medical professionals fast enough

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June 7, 2006

Albany - Georgia's shortage of health professionals is expected to get worse unless universities expand medical training. The state's shortage of nurses, pharmacists and dentists is already among the worst in the nation.  

A report released by the University System of Georgia shows the state will need 20,000 more registered nurses, 2,100 more pharmacists and 600 more dentists by 2012. But at current enrollment rates, the state will fall well short of meeting those needs.  

40 years ago, Bud Kennedy decided to become a pharmacist for two reasons. "To always have employment and make a good salary," said Kennedy.

He was right. And with a shortage of pharmacists nationwide, Kennedy says now is a better time than ever to join the profession.

"The big companies are paying $10,000 bonuses up front for a pharmacist, so they come right out of school making top dollar," said Kennedy.

Chain drugstores and 24-hour superstores create a massive need for more pharmacists. A recent study found an additional 2,100 pharmacists will be needed by 2012. But Georgia's three colleges that offer pharmacy degrees aren't producing graduates fast enough. In fact, UGA graduates only 130 pharmacists a year and turns away more than 100 qualified applicants annually.

Georgia also has a major nursing shortage, with more than 20,000 registered nurses needed.  

Dynette Brookins drives an hour from Randolph County to Darton College to study nursing. "This is the closest campus to me," said Brookins.

It's a haul she's willing to make knowing her degree will land her a job immediately. College Chair of Nursing Kim Cribb says students are recruited by hospitals and doctor's offices before they even graduate.

"They go ahead a start offering them incentives, tell them about what they have to offer, tuition remission, health benefits, all of those things," said Cribb.

Even with signing bonuses and starting salaries of more than $40,000, the state's nursing schools aren't producing enough nurses to cover the shortage. To educate more students in these critically needed health professions, the task force that produced the report is recommending the University System of Georgia hire more faculty, add new buildings and expand medical education programs throughout the state.

The report also predicts worsening shortages of psychologists and dentists.

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