Northwest Technical Institute, Northwest Arkansas Community College partner for nursing programs

Posted: November 18, 2017 at 1:08 a.m.

Northwest Technical Institute campus in Springdale.

SPRINGDALE -- Northwest Technical Institute's licensed practical nursing students will be able to obtain their registered nursing license quicker because of a new agreement with Northwest Arkansas Community College.

"The licensed practical nurse needs to go on," said Debra Walker, director of nursing at the technical school. "They learn a lot in the licensed practical nursing program but to really function as a professional nurse, they need that RN."

Licensed practical nurses provide basic nursing care and are responsible for the comfort of a patient. It requires less formal training to be a licensed practical nurse than a registered nurse, who administers medicine, treatments and offers education advice.

The agreement will allow students to "seamlessly transition" into the community college's registered nursing program, officials said.

It's a hybrid system where students will work in hospitals and clinics while taking coursework online, said Carla Boyd, director of nursing at Northwest Arkansas Community College.

The students' first three 12-hour shifts will be done with a community college faculty member. Then they will be paired with a nursing preceptor -- a nurse who is a practitioner but also educates and mentors students -- to work night and weekend shifts, Boyd said.

Students are required to complete 135 clinical hours in their first semester, she said.

Mercy Health will provide the precepting, and students will work with Vantage Point regarding mental health services, Boyd said, adding that Northwest Health has also offered to help with precepting.

The difference in starting pay between a licensed practical nurse and a registered nurse can be $15 to $17 per hour, according to Walker.

Many technical school nursing students already transfer to Northwest Arkansas Community College for their registered nursing licenses, but the majority are able to take time off work, said Evelyn Jorgenson, the community college's president. This agreement will allow them to work and complete course work.

"This will bump them up on the pay scale. It'll give them more opportunities for nursing careers," she said.

The need for nurses continues to grow. Arkansas Children's Northwest is slated to open in January and Mercy Health, Northwest Health and Washington Regional Medical Center are expanding services and facilities.

Health occupations as a whole have been the fastest growing professional occupational group for 15 years running, said Mike Harvey, chief operating officer for Northwest Arkansas Council. He said he believes it's mostly a function of population growth and demand outstripping the area's ability to supply workers.

About 300 registered nursing positions are open in the region, he said, adding he expects it to remain quite robust with the expansions.

"Any agreement like this one will help because it brings more people into the pipeline, moving up that career ladder," he said of the agreement. "Also, the vast majority of these students will be local, and already working, so retention rates will likely be very high."

Northwest Technical Institute admits 50 licensed practical nursing students each spring and has a 97.8 licensure pass rate, Walker said.

Registered nursing students can take three different tracks at the community college, which have 220 students, Boyd said.

The agreement between the two schools will begin in January. That track takes 16 months to complete, Boyd said. The traditional track takes two years.

NW News on 11/18/2017