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New Program At TLU To Help Meet The Need For Medical Professionals

The sounds are so vivid and familiar. No one wants to find themselves here. With staccato beeps, heart monitors stay by a patient's side like a faithful friend. The linens that dress the beds are heavenly white. The modestly light body covering keeps the person inside the bed from being revealed, and it's always cold.

They're conditions instantly recognizable as a hospital room. And while hospitals can be a frightening or uncomfortable place for some, there's often a cheerful person rushing in and out of the room to deliver a meal or change the IV pump to help make the stay at least a little more bearable.

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Students run a scenario over a medical mannequin at TLU's new nursing program.

On this day, Dr. Amy Long stands with two students in the stark hospital room. "We're going to run a scenario," she announces to two students as they looked over a stone-faced patient.

There's a reason the person in the bed is mostly unresponsive. It's a mannequin designed to help students learn any number of scenarios that faculty members dream up. They control him - or her, with the ability to change the dummy's genitalia, hair and teeth - from a small booth in another room. Long is one of the faculty members at Texas Lutheran University's new nursing program.

Amie Bedgood, another faculty member, explains the system control panel by the bed is technologically advanced for any situation.

"It's an iPad looking device and as the faculty we can program the mannequin to breathe at a certain rate, have a heart rate of a certain speed, have certain blood pressure and do things as the student is assessing, we can change these based on what the student is doing and how they're intervening," she said.

Nurses are in short supply. That's why Texas Lutheran University has opened its new nursing program to a selective few students, taught by four faculty members. The program is a response to a community request, said Dr. Stuart Dorsey, TLU's president.

"We have to look at ways we can grow and better serve the area and better meet the needs of students and those are changing all the time," he said.

Several donors made the program a reality, including support from the Baptist Health Foundation, St. Luke's and the Greehey Family Foundation, which gave $1 million to pump life into the idea.

"That's one of the real positive surprises to me about this initiative for us is the enthusiasm of donors and philanthropy to making this program happen and that's been a real plus for Texas Lutheran," Dorsey said.

For students like Tessa Nichols, an LVN who came to TLU to receive her four year degree in nursing, the possibilities are limitless from the opportunity available here. Ultimately she wants to be a missionary medical care worker in Africa.

"To go for my RN (Registered Nurse) meant to be able to make a bigger difference in people's lives and do more to help them and the associate level degree is great, it's just that the way that healthcare is going right now, you just really do need the bachelor level to be able to make the biggest difference," she said.

Nichols is one of 15 students. There are four males in the program currently. Dorsey said the program is limited in size by design, and he intends on keeping the classes this way.

Just as the university is selective, hospitals have the same luxury. Economics explain the reason. The recession caused many nurses who would be exiting the workforce about now to continue working. But nurses are needed in a big way, too.

Cindy Zolnierek is the director of the Texas Nurses Association. She thinks the programs are helping fill the need. The biggest challenge, though, is finding clinical space for the students.

"Nursing is a profession that requires that clinical training," she said. "They need hands-on training with real patients in clinical settings and there are only so many settings and it's been very challenging for schools to find adequate clinical experience for their students."

That hasn't been a problem for TLU. Dorsey said medical centers in the area jumped at the chance to help train students.

Since 2002, Zolnierek said Texas has helped fund the nurse shortage reduction program to keep the state from losing too many healthcare professionals. The 86 percent demand and 53 percent supply between 2005 and 2020 puts the burden on these programs.

The places where the students will eventually go to practice will vary. Some, like Nichols, will carry out their life's work overseas on missionary trips. Kathie Aduddell, the director of TLU's program, said the vast majority will go to work in hospitals immediately following graduation.

"But there's a great need for the community rural area of Texas, especially this area," she said. "If you look at the statistics in the number of RN's to population, we're very low."

The nursing program's mission has just begun to provide nursing professionals wherever they decide to go.

Editor's Note: TLU is an underwriter with Texas Public Radio