In Nashville alone, there is an estimated shortage of 10,000 nurses, and Ascension Saint Thomas is working to place a dent in that number while also providing veterans with a job.

The Ascension Saint Thomas Nursing Corps is a newly formed partnership between the healthcare chain and Middle Tennessee State University’s Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center and the School of Nursing. The goal is to guide MTSU’s nursing students, especially those who are veterans, into jobs at Ascension, said Lauren King, director of recruiting for Saint Thomas Health.

One reason for the shortage is that nurses are aging out at a rate where young recruits cannot replace them, King said. There are about 102,566 active registered nurse licenses in the state, she said, and in 2018, nursing schools throughout the state graduated only 3,234 nurses.

“We can’t refill the shortage,” King said.

But, graduates like Martinna Young provide some hope, Saint Thomas and MTSU officials said.

The eight-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Ascension Saint Thomas employee, wife and mother to three daughters under the age of 9, graduated Nov. 26, according to Saint Thomas and MTSU. She became the first member of the Ascension Saint Thomas Nursing Corps.

Young, an operations manager, shared with MTSU how she became interested in a healthcare career after her first daughter, Trinnity, was born in the NICU at 35 weeks and was diagnosed with gastroschisis.

Young said, “It was the NICU nurses who made me feel me safe during that scary time. They took such amazing care of my little girl and were the only people I felt comfortable leaving her with. I left that experience determined to become a nurse.”

Young added, “Leaving the military is always a scary choice and people are sometimes afraid to take that next step. The military afforded me so many opportunities and I am so grateful, but I’m also glad that I didn’t let fear of life changes keep me from stepping out in a new direction.” 

Providing that bridge between military life and the civilian world is exactly what the Daniels Center exists for, said Shane Smith, a healthcare recruiter for Saint Thomas Health. He is a veteran and a former employee of the Daniels Center.

“I understand the struggles of transitioning from a world where it’s organized to the chaos of academia and raising a family in a new environment that’s not so organized,” Smith said.

Service members from Day One can map out their military career based on the job they want to do, but when they leave, they lose that predictability, he said. Job placement through the Daniels Center and Ascension takes stress away and allows them to focus on academics. They can begin working at Saint Thomas while still enrolled in college and have priority placement into a nursing job as soon as they graduate.

Nursing Corps participants can earn stipends and bonuses every semester they are enrolled in exchange for a two-year commitment to Saint Thomas or anywhere else in the nation with Ascension, King and Smith said.

“We would love for them to stay within the Saint Thomas family, but if they or their spouse have to move … they may be able to work with Ascension,” Smith said.

There are nine active Nursing Corps participants in the nursing program and 22 in pre-nursing who may qualify later, King said.

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