New program at Mitchell Technical College helps registered nurses take flight
Demand for RNs, LPNs remains strong, school officials say
MITCHELL — There are virtually no areas of health care work where nurses are not in need.
Whether it be in hospitals, telehealth, emergency rooms, physician's offices, schools or any number of other posts where nurses perform their work, the demand for highly-trained health professionals like nurses continues to be high. It’s hard to get nurses into the workforce fast enough.
Mitchell Technical College took a new step this year to help address that need when the school started its registered nursing program, setting up a complementary counterpart to its licensed practical nursing program that began in 2017. And it’s working its first group of students through the program now.
“We just started in August of 2021 with 24 students,” Carena Jarding, nursing program director at Mitchell Technical College, told the Mitchell Republic. “In 2017 was the first cohort of LPN students, and five years on we were ready to get the RN program started.”
The new program allows students with an LPN license to complete an RN degree within one year, which is an associate's degree at the school. When students graduate in August, they are eligible to take the NCLEX RN test, which is the national licensing exam for registered nurses.
Jarding said the program is a good way for LPNs to upgrade their training in an efficient, affordable way.
“They can transition from LPN to the RN role,” Jarding said. “Data is showing that there is a real need for health care workers, and LPNs and RNs are no different. That has really driven why we wanted to start this RN program. It gives LPN students a way to continue their education and get their RN degree, earn more money and fill that need that we so desperately need. Not just in the community or state, but across the country.”
Specifics can vary from state to state, but nurses generally come in two forms: licensed practical nurses and registered nurses. Both perform a variety of jobs in the healthcare field, with the primary difference between the two being that registered nurses, who can perform the duties of a licensed practical nurse, additionally train in supervisory roles.
Obtaining an RN license can mean access to more job opportunities and higher pay, as well as addressing a shortage of critical health workers.
“The major difference is an RN is the manager of the patient care. They are the ones that really help coordinate the patient’s whole care from admission to discharge. For students going back to get their RN license, it does increase pay to have that increased responsibility,” Jarding said. “Both (LPN and RN) roles are vital and play an important part of the whole team, but the RN is the manager of that team.”
The coursework for the RN program is done online, with one day a week being dedicated to clinical work. The studies focus on the arts and sciences of nursing as well as higher-level and critical thinking.
Jarding said the program has already received a good response from students looking to upgrade their license through the school. Mitchell Technical College accepts 24 students every year for the program, with some of them springing from the school’s own LPN program.
“We love seeing students return - they have a sense of familiarity with the program, and that gives them a comfort level where they can reach out to the instructors for anything,” Jarding said. “That sets our program apart. We do have a faculty that cares so much about the students and their success.”
The program is also bolstered by several financial programs, including the Build Dakota Scholarship program. That program pairs potential students with employers who pay for the student’s tuition and materials in exchange for a commitment from the student to later work for that employer for three years. Jarding said nine of the current program students are on the Build Dakota Scholarship program or similar programs.
Those kinds of incentive programs, coupled with being able to work on school work online, has made the program particularly appealing for older, non-traditional students who may work full or part-time jobs but are looking to either return to the nursing field or to upgrade their licensing for more work opportunities or better pay.
And employers are hiring.
“The need is quite great, and employers are wanting to get in front of our students to get them hired. With the Build Dakota program, many of our current students have their employers paying for their RN degree if they go back and work for them for three years,” Jarding said. “That’s a real driver for students to come back to the school and for employers to keep their employees, as well.”
Starting the RN program was a natural dovetail following the establishment of the LPN program. And since the coursework for classes is primarily online and the two programs can share lab space, there was minimal need to construct new facilities to accommodate the program. Additional instructors were hired to take on the additional teaching load, Jarding said.
Carol Grode-Hanks, vice president for academics at Mitchell Technical College, said the new program reflects the tradition of the school’s instructors taking a deep interest in their students’ success, as well as those students excelling in their trade.
“We are very excited to give back to the nursing community by training the next generation of RNs,” Grode-Hanks said. “Dr. Jarding and all the nursing instructors have a passion for quality education which is evident in their course design and delivery. Being a nurse educator is much more than teaching classes – the faculty are all in with the students and are just as invested in the students’ success as the students are. The dedication of both faculty and students is unparalleled.”
Grode-Hanks agreed that nursing graduates arein high demand and remains one of the top occupations in South Dakota, with growth at over 13%. She said there were over 900 RN positions needed annually in South Dakota.
That’s why the new RN program at Mitchell Technical College, and its sister LPN program, are expected to continue well into the foreseeable future. For now, Jarding said, the program will continue to work out the kinks and make improvements. But she would like to see the program eventually expand to admit more students, a move that would push even more nursing graduates out into the waiting workforce.
“Eventually, in five or 10 years down the road, we want to get more students admitted and have more than one start date, but that’s down the road,” Jarding said.
Grode-Hanks said the program is dedicated to bringing more skilled nurses into the world for years to come. The students want to learn, and the healthcare industry and its patients are all awaiting their arrival at their facilities.
Mitchell Technical College is a great place to get on that road to their next career in life.
“Starting your nursing career at Mitchell Technical College is a solid decision. The quality of the curriculum, combined with the high caliber of the faculty and strong student support services ensures that you have the tools necessary to fulfill your dreams,” Grode-Hanks said. “The financial investment is affordable and several scholarship programs including Build Dakota are available. If you have made the decision to be a nurse, Mitchell Technical College will be there right with you from your first day to graduation day.”
Those interested in the nursing programs at Mitchell Technical College can learn more at the Mitchell Technical College website.