EDINBURG, RGV – A new partnership in Hidalgo County to train high school students to become nurses is going be revolutionary for the local community, says the president of South Texas College.

Dr. Shirley A. Reed made the bold claim while helping to unveil a pilot program that will allow high school students to graduate with an associate’s degree in nursing. The partners in the program are STC, PSJA ISD, Region One Education Service Center and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.

“This partnership is going to be revolutionary for our community. It is going to be revolutionary for how we prepare professional, registered nurses. We see it transforming the quality of life for our families, where our students will have access to really good paying jobs,” Reed predicted.

Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president of South Texas College.
Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president of South Texas College.

Many students were in the audience at Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance to learn about the program.

“We expect you to select this program not just for a good paying job but because you truly care about people and you are dedicated to being a professional nurse, Reed told the students. “It is going to be transformative.”

Although the opportunity for students to earn the certification to become a nurse while at high school will be a first in the Rio Grande Valley, STC has a number of other associate degree programs that high school students can take, Reed said.

“This is not really new for South Texas College. We have established ourselves as a national leader in delivering dual enrollment programs. No one has ever attempted nursing. But we have very successfully delivered programs in engineering, medical sciences, computer technology, criminal justice,” Reed said.

“As a matter of fact we have 13,000 students at South Texas College who are taking high school courses and college courses at the same time and proving to the rest of the state and the country that our students can be successful, they truly can complete high school and college at the same time.”

The above line won Reed loud applause.

Reed said she did not want underestimate the challenge the pilot project is going to present for all those involved. “This is perhaps the most academically challenging program that South Texas College offers. Students are going to have to be absolutely dedicated and committed to keep up with the academic rigor of this program,” she said.

And, Reed had some advice for students about the importance of dedication and hard work.

“Students I can say to you, we select the very best students to get into our nursing program and we have to turn large, large, numbers of students away. You are going to have to be almost a ‘Straight A’ student. You are going to have to take very challenging classes. You are going to have to spend time in the hospitals. You are going to have to give up a lot of social life that you may not appreciate giving up,” Reed said.

“But, when you are done at the end of two years you will be able to take the licensure exam, you will be a registered nurse and you will have just a marvelous professional career, a meaningful career before you. But you are going to have to work and we are going to hold you to the very highest of expectations. You will be dealing with lives, loved ones, and so you have to be absolutely the very, very, best.”

Reed then reiterated that it is a pilot project that is being launched.

“We want to see if it works. We are optimistic that we are going to be able to make it work but it is going to take the commitment and the dedication of all partners, not just South Texas College. PSJA, Region One, Med High and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance,” Reed said.

“So, let’s have a shout out, can we make this happen? Can you complete two years of college while you are in high school? Can you pass your licensure exam? And you are going to be a great Renaissance nurse? Yes, we sure can.”

Doctors Hospital at Renaissance CEO Israel Rocha also spoke at the Edinburg event. “Today, we really are starting a new page in the history of how nurses can be trained in the United States,” Rocha said, pointing out that the Valley is not only short of nurses but many of its best-trained nurses are retiring at a fast rate.

“Why are we having to leave the community and the Rio Grande Valley when we have such talented students?” Rocha asked. He said discussions with DHR’s partners in the nursing program went on for about a year. The result of the discussions, he said, was the creation of a unique program, possibly the only one of its kind the country.

DHR’s role, Rocha said, would be put trainee nurses in clinical rotations and, later, in residency programs. “We want to create a pipeline,” he said. “Through public-private partnerships we can change the Rio Grande Valley and hopefully change the future of America and the country on how we educate individuals. Today, you can see that when you put innovation, you put talent, you put hard work and creativity and community partners from around our region together, we can help change the direction of education in the country.”

Israel Rocha, CEO of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.
Israel Rocha, CEO of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.

Addressing students in the audience, Rocha said: “Doctors Hospital at Renaissance is willing to work with you and put you through a residency program that will be available to you. You would help pay for your pathway to get a bachelor’s in nursing and then a doctorate. We would be your partner in that success.”

Like PSJA ISD Superintendent Daniel P. King, Rocha said the nurse training program was a “solution designed in the Valley.” He then referenced remarks he made when announcing the planned Doctors Hospital at Renaissance-South facility in McAllen – that the Valley can no longer be considered the backdoor to America but rather the front door to scientific discovery and research. “Today is really one of the first steps we are taking to change that course of direction. We want to show the Rio Grande Valley that it is not just words. But, that we are working diligently with our community, together to make things happen that others only imagine.”

Rocha concluded by saying: “Today is so exciting for that one reason. We are helping to change that direction. This is just one of many new innovations to come.”