The rise of COVID-19 has brought a new demand for healthcare workers at every level with the American Nurses Association projecting a need of 1.1 million new registered nurses by 2022 to avoid a shortage in the field.

Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) is using its 60 years of experience to help meet the needs of the workforce in the northwest Georgia region. According to enrollment data from Fall 2020, healthcare students comprise 25% of GNTC’s student population.

GNTC President Heidi Popham said the college’s mission is to supply industry partners with highly trained professionals and to grow programs to meet the workforce needs in the community.

As president, Popham meets with business and industry partners across GNTC’s nine-county service area to better understand their workforce needs. If a new area of need is identified, the college performs a needs assessment. This assessment of workforce need may result in a new academic program or a short-term, non-credit training program.

When developing new programs, Georgia Northwestern examines a combination of industry and public data in order to asses if a new program will continue to meet the needs of the people of northwest Georgia.

This procedure has been in place since the 1960s when GNTC existed as Coosa Valley Vocational-Technical School and Walker County Area Vocational-Technical School. The two schools eventually became Coosa Valley Technical College (CVTC) and Northwestern Technical College (NTC). In 2009, the two colleges merged to become Georgia Northwestern Technical College.

Healthcare education pioneers

What began as two separate vocational schools offering a handful of programs in Floyd and Walker counties has grown into a regional college with six campuses and over 200 programs of study, including 39 different health majors.

Medical Assisting was organized by Jane Rice, retired Medical Assisting instructor, in 1968. The program officially accepted new students in 1969 according to the college’s yearbook. The yearbook called 1969 “a significant year,” citing the start of the new program, the graduation of the 25th and 26th Practical Nursing classes and the hands-on experience that students from both programs received at local doctor’s offices and hospitals.

“I loved every minute of working with the Medical Assisting program for almost 30 years,” said Rice. “Many program graduates used the program as a foundation to continue their education and become Registered Nurses, nurse practitioners and office managers.”

According to Rice, the Medical Assisting program became the first program in Georgia to become accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs in 1972.

Denise Grant, retired executive director of Nursing at GNTC, helped establish several of Northwestern Technical College’s healthcare programs. When she started working at the college in 1993, Grant was working with the long-established Practical Nursing program. Grant expanded the program by adding evening classes and also helped establish 15 new programs for the college.

“One of the biggest challenges of starting a new program is getting it accredited,” Grant said. “Each program has to meet specific requirements of the appropriate accrediting agency, otherwise students will not get hired when they graduate.”

“The college worked through a changing and growing healthcare field and the needs of the field were different than they are now. We had a very capable team of faculty and staff who got the job done,” said Jeff King, former GNTC provost and current evening coordinator on GNTC’s Catoosa County Campus.

During Grant’s tenure at GNTC, she worked with Frank Pharr, retired Dean of Health Technologies, to grow and maintain the college’s health programs. Grant and Pharr both retired earlier this year with a combined 60 years of service to health education in northwest Georgia.

During his time at the college, Pharr helped establish GNTC’s Respiratory Therapy, Ultrasound, Echocardiography and Vascular Sonography programs. Pharr said the rapid growth of healthcare programs in the northwest Georgia area is due to industry partners recognizing the fact that GNTC faculty train quality workers that are workforce ready upon graduation.

“The proof of this is that our graduates get hired,” said Pharr. “Students come here because our graduates get jobs and this attracts more students.”

According to Dr. Craig McDaniel, mayor of Rome and former GNTC president, a strong relationship with local hospitals and medical groups helped establish the college’s new healthcare programs. At one point during his career at GNTC, McDaniel said around one third of enrolled students were trying to get into a healthcare program.

“You can’t go into any healthcare facility in northwest Georgia without seeing a graduate of GNTC,” said McDaniel. “J.D. Powell, the college’s first president, used to say to me, ‘The best thing that happens on a technical college campus does not happen in the president’s office, but in the classroom,’ and I have always taken that to heart.”

Since 2012, Georgia Northwestern has presented over 5,000 degrees, diplomas and technical certificates of credit to graduates of the college’s healthcare programs.

Georgia Northwestern Technical College provides workforce education to the citizens of northwest Georgia. Students have the opportunity to earn an associate degree, diploma or a certificate in business, health, industrial or public service career paths. This past year, 11,820 people benefited from GNTC’s credit and noncredit programs. GNTC has an annual credit enrollment of 8,591 students and an additional enrollment of 3,229 people through adult education, continuing education, business and industry training and Georgia Quick Start.

GNTC is a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia and an Equal Opportunity Institution.

For more information about GNTC, visit www.GNTC.edu.

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