college safety

Accident on the Highway photo by Judy Baxter via Flickr and used a creative commons license

The tragic vehicular pile-up on Interstate 16 near Savannah where five Georgia Southern University nursing students were killed has shocked our state, and has caused concern on the national stage. It may even lead to new legislation regulating heavy transport rigs to push safer highways.

The nursing students were driving from college in Statesboro to Savannah (roughly 55 miles) to continue their clinical “rotational” training in order to become nurses. Georgia Southern in the last few years has developed an accredited nursing program, which now counts 185 students, 76 in the RN-BSN program, and 78 graduate students. Each semester, another 50 students come to the college to begin this training.

The nursing program has ties with St. Joseph/Candler and Memorial Hospitals, and other medical facilities in Savannah. A total of 71 undergraduate students are now in their clinical rotations there. Approximately 30 graduate students do their clinical hours in health agencies in the Savannah area at any given time. Meanwhile, Georgia Southern has memorandums of understanding with 100 other health agencies in Georgia.

The future nurses get classroom instruction in Statesboro. However, there are insufficient medical facilities in Statesboro for the rotation program, so hospitals in Savannah are part of the program of study, where students travel each day.

A little closer to home, here in Gwinnett there is a similar program for medical students at the Georgia campus in Suwanee of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (GaPCOM). Both medical and pharmacy students also participate in rotations as part of their medical training. Medical students typically are required to “do rounds” in hospital with doctors studying in such areas as family medicine, OB-GYN, internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, osteopathic manipulative medicine, surgery, emergency medicine, and similar other fields. These subjects are taken serially, with most of them lasting six weeks.

The GaPCOM rotations are in hospitals in Lawrenceville, Roswell and Alpharetta, but are also at other hospitals throughout the state. At some locations, the student rents housing in the hospital area and spends most of the time away from campus. Georgia anchor locations for Doctor of Osteopathy students from GaPCOM include Valdosta, Albany, Rome, Columbus, Warner Robins, plus Dothan, Montgomery and Birmingham in Alabama and in West Palm Beach, and Jacksonville, Fla.

But is there another way to teach nursing At Georgia Southern than requiring students to travel to Savannah daily? Could the entire School of Nursing be based in Savannah, on a satellite Georgia Southern campus? Or should Georgia Southern run this program at all? After all, two University Systema’ four year colleges are in Chatham County. That would be Savannah State University and Armstrong State University.

In other words, is this a question that higher authority, the Board of Regents, should decide? Eliminating the requirement that students drive long distances would seem reasonable. While Georgia Southern University might object, the Regents have some responsibility in this and should consider the overall safety of students in making such a decision. It is costly in time and effort, and now in safety, for the students to be on the highway so much.

You wonder if there could be a better way. It should spark discussion not just in Georgia, but on a national basis within the educational field.

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared at the Gwinnett Forum. Image: Accident on the Highway photo by Judy Baxter via Flickr and used a creative commons license.
Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County,, and Georgia news,