WT, AC nursing programs growing, could help with local nurse shortage

Local News

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — As more nurses and medical professionals leave Amarillo hospitals during the pandemic, local nursing programs said their students can help down the road.

During Wednesday’s City of Amarillo COVID-19 briefing, hospital leaders warned many nurses are leaving.

“We have had a large exodus of nurses, for different reasons, leave our community and either travel and work elsewhere, or…not work in the nursing profession any longer,” said BSA Health System’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Lamanteer. “Or not be able to provide the hours and shifts that they provided during the pandemic because none of that’s sustainable.”

Northwest Texas Healthcare System’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brian Weis, shared the same concerns.

“If COVID disappeared tomorrow, it would take it will take us years to replete the number of nurses that we have lost in the last 18 months,” he said.

However, West Texas A&M University and Amarillo College said help is on the way as more people apply to and graduate from their nursing departments.

WT’s Nursing Department Head, Dr. Holly Jeffreys, said the number of 2021-21 graduates was higher than any other single year in the last decade.

In a statement on Thursday, Dr. Jeffreys said, “We anticipate that our RN program will continue to grow and supply the Panhandle region with nurses. While nurses may be leaving the profession, we have a large number of qualified applicants and graduates willing and ready to serve.”

AC’s Director of Associate Degree Nursing, Dr. Elizabeth Matos, said their nursing department has seen more applicants than in the last five years.

“It seems as if the pandemic has really created a, ‘I need to be a nurse,'” Dr. Matos said.

According to Dr. Matos, AC aims to graduate from 120 to 150 nursing students each year. She said they have a potential for 66 graduates in December and another 76 next May.

Dr. Matos said they bring nursing students into the COVID units to have them appropriately fit-tested for protective wear, to hospital standards and CDC guidelines.

She said nursing students are aware of the conditions frontline workers endure in hospitals, as yet another surge in COVID cases strains capacity and resources.

“The concerns that I hear from our faculty who are out in the front line, one of the things I hear is that the nurses are, they’re tired and they’re burned out. Physical and mental,” said Dr. Matos. “It’s the mental exhaustion, probably more so than it is even the physical exhaustion.”

That is why Dr. Matos said they are teaching students how to take care of themselves when they enter the workforce.

“One area that we really try to teach in our work with our students is teaching them resilience, and being resilient at a time, such as a pandemic,” she continued. “A pandemic doesn’t last forever, but we need to be resilient to get us through the pandemic and to just create a healthier community.”

AC and Frank Phillips College are continuing to partner for the Rural Nursing Education Consortium (RNEC). Jeffreys also said WT is a collaborator, as they altogether support community college nursing programs and hospital districts in Dalhart, Dumas, Perryton, Hereford, and Borger.

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