After months of intense preparation and dedication, 14 high school students in the Nursing Career Pathway Program at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (PSJA) became the first cohort of students in the nation to participate in a Nursing Associate Degree Program, which will allow them to graduate with an associate degree in nursing in the spring of 2017. This is possible thanks to a partnership with South Texas College, Doctor Hospital at Renaissance and Region One Education Service Center.
First approved by the Texas Board of Nursing on July 23, 2015, PSJA’s Nursing Career Pathway Program is the first in the nation to address the growing need for registered nurses by providing a college-level associate degree to qualified high school students free of charge.
According to Cynthia Ann Shartle, the STC clinical instructor teaching the courses, the innovative program presents a great opportunity for students in the Rio Grande Valley.
“They’re practically getting their first two years of college and their associate degree without having tuition or an expense of books and uniforms,” said the STC professor.
For Larissa Lopez, a junior at PSJA T. Jefferson T-STEM Early College High School, participating in the program has been a privilege.
“Being a part of the cohort that’s experiencing this program for the first time is a wonderful experience,” Lopez said. “I feel that as a student I am going to be very prepared when I get out of high school.”
In order to get accepted into the program, the students had to have a good grade point average, demonstrate academic success and pass the Health Education Systems Incorporated (HESI) entrance exam.
“This program overall has been quite challenging. We started with our pre-requisites like Anatomy I and Anatomy II,” shared Lopez. “Those are classes that seniors take, so we had a lot of studying to do in order to meet the criteria and get the grades we needed.”
Besides advanced textbook learning material, students in the program will also have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through various tools.
“We’re using a classroom that can be used for multiple functions so that they can have as much hands-on time and get visuals to attach the concepts they learn,” Shartle explained. “During the clinical experience, they will start out doing some virtual simulations where we will use mannequins that can be used for all kinds of things like be hooked on to a monitor, breathe and talk to you.”
For some students, this program has helped them define their career goals.
“At first I was confused and didn’t know if it was something that I wanted to do, but then I started thinking about my future and this is something that is interesting to me,” said Luis Silos, a student at PSJA North ECHS. “I want to be a nurse because you have the opportunity to help people.”
While there are numerous advantages and benefits to their participation, the STC clinical instructor said the program is anything but easy.
“It’s a very rigorous program of study. There is a whole lot of coordination going on between us, the PSJA school district and the counseling staff,” said Shartle. “Students can expect to mature a lot and be exposed to a lot of things that they haven’t been exposed to before. They can expect to work very hard for their grades and very hard to become people that put patients first.”
With a whole year of rigorous schooling left to go before their graduation, the PSJA students remained optimistic and said that it will all be worth it in the end.
“It’s an important decision,” said Silos. “We will be registered nurses by the end of our senior year. It’s not going to be easy and it will take time, but we can do it.”
As a result, the students said they are grateful for all the opportunities and support they have received so far.
“I would like to thank PSJA because they have done a lot for us,” said Lopez. “Our uniforms, classes and books have been taken care of by the district so that all we have to worry about is our grades and being ready for our classes.”