By Joe Wyatt

Amarillo College has received a $250,000 grant from the Harrington Cancer and Health Foundation to help expand capacity in the Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) program by adding a night-classes component. 

In conjunction with the ADN program’s anticipated future shift to concept-based curricula, night classes will enable the College to not only enroll and produce more registered nurses, but to shorten their time to completion by a full semester. 

The Harrington grant, which will be facilitated by the AC Foundation, will help fund additional nursing faculty and provide night nursing students with a $500 stipend each semester to help cover costs of tuition, fees, books and supplies. 

Pending approval of the curricular revisions by both the Texas Board of Nursing and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, AC hopes to begin offering evening nursing classes sometime over the next year. 

Close to 70 percent of nurses in the region already get their start at Amarillo College, but the need for more is great, says Dr. Elizabeth Matos, director of the ADN program. Night classes, she says, will open the door of opportunity to many potential students who for a variety reasons are unable to make a commitment to daytime classes. 

“The Panhandle of Texas that we serve has great need for more professional nurses,” Matos said. “Night classes will meet the needs of many for whom daytime classes are prohibitive due to family or employment obligations.” 

Another advantage of ADN program expansion is the impact it will have on the number of students accepted into nursing at AC each Spring and Fall semester, a number presently capped at 65 per semester. AC’s LVN-to-RN transition program is capped at 32 per Spring and Fall semester. 

“Growing our program is what we need to do,” Matos said. “It’s definitely a win-win situation because we’ll be better able to meet our students’ needs while optimally serving our stakeholders throughout the Panhandle.” 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration, of the 26 counties in the Panhandle, 17 are designated as Medically Underserved Areas, and four others have underserved districts within the county. Despite the gains made on addressing the nationwide nursing shortage over the past 10 years, rural communities are in greater need of nurses trained to take on expanded roles in preventative care and managing health status due to the difficulty of attracting and keeping medical personnel. 

AC’s shift to a concept-based nursing curriculum – a focus on conceptual learning, as opposed to memorization – has been in development for some time. Once approved, it can effectively reduce the time to complete AC’s nursing program from five semesters to four. 

“Our plan is to initially incorporate concept-based learning into our night classes, but our eventual goal is to move all our daytime nursing classes to concept-based pedagogy, too,” Matos said. “The national licensure exam already has shifted to a concept-based emphasis. 

“It’s less content-heavy and more competency-based. It is a curriculum that allows students to better integrate nursing knowledge and to understand the underlying associated concepts. These connections have been shown to have a significant impact on nursing performance, so aligning our curricula accordingly just makes sense.”

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