(HARLINGEN) – The Texas State Technical College nursing division in Harlingen is celebrating its second consecutive 100 percent national exam pass rate for its vocational nursing program, a mark of distinction for the department that is working to relieve a shortage of nurses in the Rio Grande Valley and across the state.
“We hold all of our students to a high standard,” said Heather Sauceda, TSTC vocational nursing program director. “Here at TSTC we produce skilled, competent and compassionate nurses who we can trust in the field to fill the gap in patient care.”
For a vocational nursing graduate to become licensed as an LVN, he or she must first pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which gives them the right to practice nursing in the state.
Last year, to give its vocational nursing graduates and current LVN licensees more opportunity and because nurses are in high demand, TSTC introduced an Associate of Applied Science licensed vocational nursing (LVN) to registered nursing (RN) transition degree.
According to the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies of the Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas will see continued demand for registered nurses through 2030.
Additionally, Texas is the highest employer of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Among the contributing factors to the rising need for nurses are an increase in demand for health care services, an aging population, an increase of chronic disease, new patient-centered medical homes and health centers, and nursing personnel who are nearing retirement.
Harlingen Medical Center Chief Nursing Officer Amy Flores oversees more than 200 nurses, with a large of number of them, she says, retiring within the next five to 10 years.
“The future is bright for nursing right now. We’re going to be scrambling to find enough (nurses) soon,” she said. “And it’s important now, more than ever, that we have more colleges and qualified staff to train new nurses.”
Jean Lashbrook, TSTC’s statewide nursing division director, said that the approval in 2017 for a new registered nursing program at TSTC’s Harlingen campus has allowed them to train more students pursuing the field.
“We started with a cohort of 30 students in Fall 2017, but after three years we plan on increasing the number of students accepted, along with increasing faculty,” she said.
The first cohort will be graduating this summer.
Lashbrook also added that the registered nursing program at TSTC’s Breckenridge and Sweetwater campuses in West Texas is increasing its number of students and graduates.
“In West Texas we’re increasing our numbers by branching out in local communities for clinical experience for students, which gives our program more visibility in the surrounding area,” said Lashbrook.
Vocational and registered nursing students at TSTC have the opportunity to learn and practice simulation exercises in state-of-the-art labs.
“The training we provide allows our students to practice real-world scenarios they will encounter,” said Sauceda. “This helps reduce their anxiety, which in turn allows them to provide the best patient care possible.”
Flores, who has worked with TSTC nursing students completing their clinical hours, has found their skills to be above average.
“They are professional, prepared for clinicals and have good instructors that monitor their progress,” Flores said. “We have found in the past with other programs that students did not come with all the necessary skills and had to be followed closely,” she said.
TSTC’s objective and focus is to produce highly skilled nurses who are compassionate, committed to their career, can think critically, multitask and have good time management, which is the type of nurses that Harlingen Medical Center and many others across the state are looking for.
“Acuity (intensity of care required by a patient) in hospitals has been rising rapidly due to an average decline in length of stay because of new technology that allows rapid assessment, treatment and discharge,” said Flores. “Hospitals are now also becoming large intensive care units, with cardiac monitoring, respiratory assistance and intense treatment, so skilled and specialized nurses are in great demand.”
Hospitals across the Rio Grande Valley have licensed vocational nursing and registered nursing positions posted on their websites. Harlingen Medical Center and Valley Baptist Health System in Cameron County have nearly 80 available positions combined, while Doctors Hospital at Renaissance and South Texas Health System in Hidalgo County, combined, have more than 100.
“There is no lack of positions in our field,” said Sauceda. “And our goal is not only to prepare our students for a career in nursing, but also to get them ready to take their education a step further.”
Sauceda added that the TSTC nursing division team has also been visiting local high schools to plant the seeds of a career in healthcare early.
“These teens and young adults are the people who will be taking care of us all someday,” she said. “It’s our job to encourage them, and because of the demand, there will be many doors of opportunity open to help them climb the ladder.”
TSTC’s Breckenridge and Sweetwater campuses also offer a certificate in vocational nursing or an associate degree in nursing.
For more information on TSTC’s nursing programs or about upcoming information sessions, call 956-364-4762.