South Central Career Center receives significant $300,000 grant for new practical nursing program

WEST PLAINS, Mo. – The South Central Career Center here has received a $300,000 grant for its new practical nursing program geared toward high school students. 

SCCC Director Dr. Josh Cotter says the grant would not have been possible without the help of Gov. Mike Parson, state Sen. Karla Eslinger, Missouri State University-West Plains, and Ozarks Healthcare. 

“We are very fortunate to have their support and we’re excited to see what this brings,” Cotter told The Heartlander.

Cotter says SCCC began meeting in April with MSU-West Plains and Ozarks Healthcare to brainstorm solutions to the shortage of practical nurses – one of them being to add an early-entry practical nursing program geared toward high school students.

Cotter says that, coincidentally, MSU-West Plains announced a nursing grant program just weeks later, and he knew they had to go for it.

“[Hospital staff are] worn out. They’ve been through a literal pandemic,” he said. “Now they are having to do it shorthanded. A lot of that traveling labor force during the pandemic is going other places. These rural hospitals are in a place where they are having to make some decisions.”

The $300,000 grant will begin funding the program July 1, 2023 and run through June 2025. The funds will primarily provide income for staff, but will also cover equipment costs and necessary supplies for students to join the program.

The Nursing Early Admissions Track program will carefully consider and select 16 high school students from the 13 local schools to join.

“Most people are not familiar with the inner workings of practical nursing training,” Cotter said. “The way it works is divided into three levels. Level one is mainly your classroom portion and some lab time on-site. Levels two and three include some additional classroom (work) but is very heavy on the clinical hands-on portion of nursing. They go out to nursing homes and hospitals and actually practice in that setting.”

High school practical nursing students complete level one of requirements during their senior year. Upon graduation in May 2024, students will become eligible to join adult programs, and may take level two and three clinicals.

“We’re really reducing that time to get students out of high school and into a practical nursing job from 22 months to eight months by doing this,” Cotter said. “It’s something we are really excited about offering.”

Cotter says those coming in as adult students for level one instruction will also receive 13 hours of college credits through an MSU-West Plains partnership. Students will gain experience in anatomy, physiology and psychology.

Ozarks Healthcare is offering a clinical setting for the program, and is prepared to offer scholarships for portions of training not covered by the new grant. 

Those interested in applying for the program must be on track to graduate high school in May 2024. Applicants also will be asked to take the Test of Essential Academic Skills, a prerequisite for students who are looking to enroll in a nursing or healthcare school. 

Faculty will conduct interviews, while a committee reviews all submitted packets. Applications will open for high school students on Dec. 1 and must be submitted no later than Jan. 31.

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