Milligan receives $1 million from Ballad Health to establish sim lab

Published 2:59 pm Wednesday, October 18, 2023

MILLIGAN – Thanks to a generous $1 million gift from Ballad Health, Milligan University has announced plans to add a high-fidelity simulation lab that will advance clinical education for health sciences students who are preparing to fill critical gaps in the healthcare pipeline. 

The new health sciences simulation lab on the campus of Milligan University will include human patient simulators, medical equipment and other IT equipment that will help Milligan’s nursing, physician assistant and occupational therapy students prepare to enter the workforce. In addition to its commitment to provide $250,000 per year for four years, Ballad Health personnel will also make use of the lab for ongoing education and training. 

Milligan’s simulation lab will contain manikins capable of mimicking many complex biological systems, such as cardiac and respiratory functions as well as measurable blood pressure and other vital functions. The lab will allow Milligan’s health sciences students to learn and perform patient interventions, including those that are either high-risk or happen at a low frequency during their clinical experiences. 

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Milligan President Dr. Bill Greer said the simulation lab is just the latest chapter in a long partnership between Milligan and Ballad Health that dates back to Ballad Health’s legacy systems. 

“We are grateful to Ballad Health for their continued support,” Greer said. “Milligan has long been a leading provider of healthcare professionals for Ballad Health and our region, with many of our graduates serving in key leadership roles within the health system.”

The Appalachian Highlands, along with much of the nation and world, is experiencing an acute shortage of healthcare providers, especially in nursing and other clinician roles. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections for 2021-2031 expects 203,200 openings for registered nurses each year through 2031, when nurse retirements and workforce exits are factored into the number of nurses needed in the United States.

Additionally, the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) workforce, including nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives, is expected to grow much faster than average for all occupations, by 40% from 2021 through 2031, which means approximately 30,200 new APRNs will be needed each year. Furthermore, a shortage of registered nurses is projected to spread across the country through 2030, and the total supply of RNs decreased by more than 100,000 from 2020 to 2021 – the largest drop ever observed over the past four decades. A significant number of nurses leaving the workforce were under the age of 35, and most were employed in hospitals.

“Growing a pipeline of skilled, qualified clinicians in our region is the most important thing we can do to combat this significant shortage of healthcare professionals,” said Dr. Lisa Smithgall, Ballad Health’s chief nursing executive.

“The work of Ballad Health isn’t limited to the direct care provided in our hospitals and doctors’ offices – we’re also doing everything we can to create a brighter future and stronger trajectory for our region, and that means working with partners – such as Milligan University and other academic institutions – to strengthen and grow our local workforce,” said Eric Deaton, Ballad Health’s chief operating officer. “The students and professionals impacted by this new simulation lab will go into their healthcare careers better prepared and better able to meet the needs of patients, which is a boon to us all.”

Milligan’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates have achieved a 100 percent first-time pass rate on their licensure examination for two straight years. 

“Not only do we prepare students to successfully pass their licensure examinations, but they enter the nursing profession fully prepared to provide quality nursing care,” said Dr. Melinda Collins, Milligan’s Ballad Health chair of nursing. 

Likewise, Milligan’s physician assistant program has performed at a high level since its inception, which led to the program receiving full accreditation last summer. Additionally, Milligan’s well-established occupational therapy program is preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary in the coming year. 

In addition to the direct benefit the simulation lab will provide to current students, there is an expectation the lab will help attract and retain high-quality students and faculty to Milligan’s nursing, physician assistant and occupational therapy programs, increasing the ability for the expansion of these programs as workforce needs demand. 

“We stand ready to expand and to continue to produce healthcare workers who are prepared to lead and serve as compassionate caregivers in our region and beyond,” Greer said. “The simulation experiences in this lab will augment existing laboratory and direct clinical practice experiences within healthcare settings.” 

Following the completion of their studies, Milligan University graduates have a wealth of job opportunities in the region. Regional healthcare providers, including Ballad Health, have multiple job opportunities available in a variety of clinical and non-clinical roles – those interested can search jobs and apply online at www.balladhealth.org/careers.