PHARR, Texas – Dr. Daniel P. King, the legendary former superintendent of PSJA ISD, believes an announcement that UT-Rio Grande Valley is expanding its School of Nursing allows an important trilogy of Rio Grande Guardian stories to be completed. 

The expansion will happen thanks to a new teaching site slated to be built on land immediately south of the Pharr Events Center on N. Cage Boulevard. 

Dr. King, who is now a consultant to, among others, DHR Health, spoke at a news conference held to announce the school of nursing expansion. 

“This announcement of an expansion of the school of nursing allows the Rio Grande Guardian to complete the trilogy. This is like No. 3 of that series of articles you wrote,” King said, in an interview after his speech.

“The Guardian did a story titled “Creating a perpetual underclass,” based on a speech I gave in Austin. A few years later you did a story on a nursing program putting a dent in the perpetual underclass. Well, here is No. 3.”

Editor’s Note: Click here to read the story titled “King: Creating a perpetual underclass will come back to bite us,” from March 2013.

Editor’s Note: Click here to read the story titled “King: Nursing program will dent perpetual underclass metric,” from January 2015.

In his interview, King said the expanded School of Nursing could not come soon enough.

“There has been a nursing shortage forever, right? The Valley even more so. Before the pandemic, the prognosticators were already saying that the nursing shortage was going to hit crisis level by 2030,” King said. “But, the projection for 2030 is here today.”

King said the 2030 prediction was based on the retirement of baby boomers and an increased senior citizen population. But then came Covid.

“What Covid did, Covid accelerated so many things. Like remote work, it also accelerated the nursing crisis. There were so many nurses that were already overwhelmed. Many were close to retirement. Some of them made retirement decisions earlier. Some found during Covid that they could make a lot more money as a traveling nurse going wherever the agencies would take them. The state and federal government were pouring a lot of money into getting nurses to travel. Initially, they were approaching Covid as a hot spot issue and so a lot of nurses from Valley hospitals and really nurses from all over the nation went to agencies, making a couple of hundred bucks an hour. That is six, seven times more than they might make on the job, right?”

King said the projection of a crisis in nurse staffing levels by 2030 is here today. 

“Like everybody was saying, we have until 2030 to fix this. No, it is crisis mode now. I don’t know if you have seen in the paper, even the Houston medical complex is flying Covid patients to other hospitals, not because they don’t have room but because they don’t have nursing staff. That is true everywhere in the nation. So, it is a huge problem. So, we have got to come together and solve it.”

The nursing shortage has highlighted the need for greater social and economic mobility, King argued.

“We have tons of talented young people. The jobs are there. We need to partner and build the pipeline to get our students to these jobs. It is a win-win-win. It helps healthcare, it helps our young people improve, along with their families, and it helps economic development in the region. It is a win all the way around. So, any way that different institutions and governmental entities and private organizations can invest in building up this pipeline, everybody wins.”

In his speech, King said importing nurses, which the Valley has traditionally done, is all well and good but there are talented local people that could be filling the jobs. In his interview, he said:

“The issue with the importing is, they are great nurses but a pretty significant percentage will move on. They might have moved from another country, another continent to come here. They are willing to move a few hundred miles more to another state to make more money. It is well known here in the Valley, with the family orientation, a large percentage of young people in the Valley, if they could find the right kind of job in the Valley, they would stay here. So, it also helps the brain drain.”

Asked if he had any direct involvement in the expansion of the School of Nursing, King said he had not. 

“Not a direct involvement but this has been a passion of mine for many years. I do help DHR. DHR is a major player in providing the clinical component of nursing education for UTRGV and other colleges here in the area.”

Dr. Daniel P. King’s remarks at the UTRGV/City of Pharr news conference:

Dr. Daniel P. King

Good afternoon. What an exciting moment. You know this nursing shortage is something that, in my career previously, as an education administrator, I focused on for over 20 years and often felt like a salmon trying to swim up river where electro-hydraulic dams had been placed in the river. 

It just seemed like every turn there was a reason, there was always… well there are no facilities, there is no faculty, there is no clinical rotation spots, etc. etc. Kind of pushed and pushed. Did something crazy a few years and started – of course we had a successful cohort through a pilot – of having actual high school students get their RN degree license while they were still in high school. Just trying to bust the model and show that there has got to be more than one way to play this game. 

First of all, the nursing shortage has existed for decades. And we have mostly tried to solve it by importing nurses. Which is great, I have nothing against importing and so forth. But we have failed our own young people and our own community by using the import model. Yes, everybody wants to move to Texas but we have got our own people here in Texas that want to move up also. And so the reason from my previous positions that I always pushed on it, was here is an area, the Valley, that does not have a whole lot of careers with high wages and high skills but here is an area where there is a huge number of them, a huge number. You just heard how many qualified students were turned away just at UTRGV, here is a huge number of students wanting this, most of them from low-income backgrounds. Here are the jobs. There is no pipeline in the middle. 

And so for 20 years I have been pushing, break it, expand the pipeline, what can we do? And the only way is through partnerships. What is really exiting is, I can tell you right now from the time that Mayor Hernandez came to the city of Pharr, the partnership aspect has just blown up. He is willing to partner, to resolve problems. These challenges are too big for anyone of us. We have to work together on them. The shortage of nursing faculty, we can solve it but only by partnering. The shortage of facilities, we can solve it by partnering. The shortage of clinical rotation spots, we can solve it by creative thinking, by partnering. 

Also, I have to commend Dr. Guy Bailey because, likewise. I have found him very open to partnering. A great partner. Dr. Hernandez already mentioned the nanatorium across the street. This nursing school. Offering opportunities. So, yes, it is a great opportunity for our young people to move up into high-wage, high-skilled jobs. Guess what, they’ll stay, whereas many of the ones that are imported, they move on up to the big city as soon as they get a few years on their resume. But guess what, they will stay. Guess what, it contributes to the economy. But, how know what? This pandemic has opened our eyes to something else. We have been limping along already with the shortage of nurses. Now it is critical. 

I do a lot of work. I work with DHR, Dr. Forster at Renaissance and I can tell you right now, it is critical. I do want to commend also Doctors Hospital. They do great partnering. They partner with UTRGV on the School of Medicine. They partner with UTRGV School of Nursing, especially on the second degree nursing program, and so forth. 

But, at the end of the day, what I want to encourage everybody… this is like Dr. Hernandez said, or maybe it was Dr. Bailey, you see they work so well together that I get them mixed up. But, I know one of them said, this is a drop in the bucket; it is a big drop. But it is still a drop in the bucket. We’ve got a long ways to go. Yes, we need the higher education board’s help. Yes, we need the (UT) regent’s help. But we need the local leaders, the local organizations, the local communities to come together on this problem and the others that our community faces. Because we have tremendous people, such tremendous young people in the community. There is nothing we cannot solve if we can set our egos aside and work together.

Mayor, I want to thank you, commend you. Dr. Bailey, I commend you on your leadership. And, everybody else engaged in this. I am really excited and cannot wait to see the building completed and everything in action. Thank you very much. 

Editor’s Note: The above news story is the third in a three-part series on the expansion of the UTRGV School of Nursing. Click here to read Part One and click here to read Part Two.

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