Supporting The Talent Pipeline For Nurses In Central Louisiana

Meet Barbara Griffin, Chief Nursing Officer at Rapides Regional and LSUA Alumna. As head of nursing at Rapides Regional Medical Center, LSU Alexandria nursing alumna Barbara Griffin is not only providing critically needed medical care for people in Central Louisiana, but also ensuring jobs and professional advancement for hundreds of LSUA nursing alumni.

Griffin oversees the work of 450 nurses at Rapides Regional in Alexandria, Louisiana. Many of them are alumni of the LSUA nursing program. Although she hired another 169 LSUA graduates over the past five years, Griffin would hire many more today if she could.

Group of women talking

LSUA nursing alumna Barbara Griffin oversees 450 nurses at Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria, Louisiana. Many of them are LSUA alumni, including Karen Blade and Shelly Wanjura. 

– Photo courtesy of Rapides Regional Medical Center.

“Pre-Covid, I used to need another 35 nurses to cover the work and meet the demand of the community for healthcare,” Griffin said. “Now, like most hospitals in the United States, we need more. So, when people say there’s a demand for nurses, it’s real. It’s absolutely real.”

LSUA is working to address the nursing shortage head-on, including through the Central Louisiana Nurses for the Future Program. It has graduated an additional 155 registered nurses in just the last two years—98 percent of whom are now working in Central Louisiana and surrounding parishes. But more are needed. As Covid hospitalizations continue to decrease, the demand on nurses is increasing still, as many people who put off routine screenings and preventative care during the pandemic are returning for appointments.

“Thank God people are coming in and going to their doctors again, but the demand for nursing is even higher,” Griffin said. “Colonoscopies, mammograms—there’s a backlog of critical procedures that need to be done. That’s another beauty of nursing—there’s a thousand things you can do. You don’t have to work at a hospital, but this also makes it harder for us to hire.”

Griffin, however, has some tricks up her sleeve. Specifically, employee benefits and professional opportunities for educational advancement and higher salaries. When Griffin became Chief Nursing Officer at Rapides Regional six years ago, she was one of a few nurses at the hospital with an advanced degree—a Master of Science in Nursing, or MSN.

“Many of my leaders, and I have 12 who report directly to me, had associate degrees when I came; the education level was entry level,” Griffin said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but education opens the door to get everything in your life to a better point, and I’m extremely proud to have guided my team to advance their degrees to continue to be promoted. Now, every one of them has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and half have either an MSN or an MBA, with the other six enrolled to obtain theirs.”

It also doesn’t hurt that she has a killer recipe for chocolate chip cookies and regularly bakes treats for colleagues.

“It’s silly, but it works, and it’s a bigger deal than you’d think,” Griffin said. “It’s not really about the cookie, of course. I could bring them candy bars or ice cream, but they’re like, ‘We really want the chocolate chip cookies.’ It’s about sharing something you made, and that gives them a good feeling.”

When asked about sharing her recipe, Griffin gently declines.

“When I die, on my program at the funeral, I’m going to put my recipe on there,” Griffin said. “And if there’s a plaque, I would like it to say that I made the working experience better for the nurses here at Rapides and that I helped them advance their education and careers.”

Griffin lives in Dry Prong, Louisiana, with her 88-year-old mother, whom she cares for.

“I was always my mother’s helper,” Griffin said. “You can say nursing came naturally to me. I was born to a family of six children and my mother took care of everything with me by her side. The only reason you’d ever go to the hospital back then was if you had rheumatic fever, a snake bite or coarctation of the aorta. Other than that, my mother took care of everything, and she’s not a nurse. She’s German.”

“From her, I got my love of taking care of people,” Griffin continued. “I love being a nurse and I love it when it’s kind of a puzzle; when people come in and tell you what’s going on. ‘I know what you’ve got, and I know how we can help you.’ It really is an honorable profession, nursing. I have the best job ever, and I’m grateful every day.”

Although Griffin pursued more advanced degrees and also worked for many years at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge before returning to Central Louisiana, she traces her success back to LSUA.

“LSUA was my first love,” she said. “There, I did the groundwork to be able to move forward, and from then on, I was set.”

“But it’s hard to recruit people to come to this area, unless you’re from here,” Griffin continued. “That’s why the LSUA nursing program is so critical, educating nurses from this community for this community. It’s a beautiful thing.”

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