HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The Alabama Community College System (ACCS) says it’s seen a big increase in nursing apprenticeships through its community and technical colleges, and that is helping fill the state’s need for nurses.

This comes after new rules went into effect on March 17, 2023. It allows healthcare employers to enter into an apprenticeship agreement with a sponsoring community college.

It all started when Coastal Alabama and Gadsden State Community Colleges became the first in Alabama to offer the program. During the initial phase, 30 apprentices played a pivotal role in filling nursing vacancies across four employers in those regions.

Since then, an estimated 400 nursing apprentices across 17 colleges have served alongside nurses at more than 60 healthcare facilities.

“I feel more prepared now as a new grad than I think I ever would have if I’d been accepted into this opportunity,” LPN Launch Program Participant Trinity Carlisle says.

Carlisle, a Drake State alum, participated in the LPN Launch Program with Huntsville Hospital. She tells News 19 that the support she received from both the college and her employer is indescribable.

“You get to practice what you learn. It’s not like a theoretical, made-up patient that you’re thinking about anymore. It seemed like every week we would learn something new, and then I would go to the hospital and my patient would have it,” Carlisle added. 

Huntsville Hospital offers nursing apprenticeships through Drake Community & Technical College. Recently, 19 licensed practical nurses were pinned in the college’s inaugural LPN Launch apprenticeship cohort.

“We have about 60 LPNs through the LPN Launch Program with Drake in the program now. We’re one of the first states to do it for nurses. I never thought I’d hear the words ‘nurse’ and ‘apprentice’ in the same sentence in my career, but it shows you how nimble we’ve been since the pandemic in our staffing issues in our state,” Huntsville Hospital President/Chief Operating Officer Tracy Doughty said.

This comes at a time when experts say Alabama is facing a serious nursing shortage.

Alabama Community College System Director of Health Programs Dr. Bryant Cline says, “With them being able to recruit the students from the beginning, train them, and then (once they pass the NCLEX) retain them…it has helped out so much with the demand across the state not only for nursing but for healthcare in general.”

Dr. Cline says apprenticeships are paid, high-quality career pathways that allow residents to learn and earn at the same time. Employers who invest in apprenticeships can hire students to train on the job while the student works toward completing a degree or certification.

More than 8,450 students were enrolled in registered nursing and licensed practical nursing programs at Alabama’s community colleges last academic year. In that same time frame, a total of 2,950 students obtained a nursing credential. 

22 of Alabama’s 24 community and technical colleges offer a nursing program.

ACCS Chancellor Jimmy H. Baker says, “Some of the best training is on-the-job, and we are the strongest in workforce development in Alabama when we create avenues for our students to achieve through work-based learning such as apprenticeships.”