And the head of Northeast State Technical Community College said the work was worth it with the new associate's degree in applied science nursing. Now work is under way to begin the program in September.
"We're not going to do it unless it's done with excellence," Northeast State President Bill Locke said at a Tuesday news conference. "This will probably become the college's premiere program."
Locke said that in the past nine years, Northeast State has gone from one health care program, training emergency medical technicians, to nine including the nursing program. Nursing demand is projected to increase because of technological advances, an increasing emphasis on preventive care, and the growing numbers of elderly people, not to mention retirements and career burnout.
Wellmont Health System, Mountain States Health Alliance and Holston Medical Group officials met with Tennessee Board of Nursing Executive Director Elizabeth Lund and Associate Executive Director Martha Barr, which Locke said was instrumental in getting program approval.
The position of director for the program is being advertised and should be filled in 30 to 45 days, Locke said. The three-person faculty should be on board by the summer, with the first class starting in the fall.
Locke, at the news conference, credited the success of the program to "five years of real hard work" and support from Wellmont and MSHA, the region's two hospital systems, and Holston Medical Group, the region's largest physician practice.
Don Coleman, chair of health-related professions at Northeast State, said the initial interest in a nursing program goes back almost seven years.
"The hospitals asked us to establish a nursing program" about five years ago, Locke said.
The Tennessee Board of Regents supported that initiative then and now, but the Tennessee Board of Nursing initially turned down the idea.
Locke said some in academics want to shift registered nurses more to four-year bachelor's degrees. But he said 60 percent of registered nurses in the United States have associate's degrees, and those nurses get more hands-on training and generally score better on the national nursing exam.
So Northeast State worked with its sister school, Walters State Community College in Morristown. Northeast State provided the first year of instruction for nursing and then Walters State the rest, usually another two years, at the Northeast State campus in Gray.
The board's Feb. 22 approval marked the first associate's nursing degree program approved in Tennessee in seven years.
Locke, who used to work for Walters State, said that school is redeploying its resources to nursing programs in Greeneville and Sevierville.
Northeast State will teach the preliminary courses at campuses in Blountville, Kingsport and Elizabethton and the nursing at its Gray campus, which also houses the school's surgical technology and cardiovascular technology programs.
Northeast State has about 600 pre-nursing students enrolled. Locke said school officials expect some of those to join the Northeast State program. Students also can choose to go on to Walters State for an associate's degree or to East Tennessee State University, King College or Milligan College for four-year degrees.
After the nursing program is established, Locke said he hopes to develop a new program in which licensed practical nurses who went to Northeast State can return after a year of work and enter an accelerated associate's degree program in nursing.
He said the school also will encourage those with associate's degrees to continue and get bachelor's degree and beyond, which Vice President of Academic Affairs Carole Shaw said is especially good if they want to go into management.
Locke said the associate's program initially will take 30 to 40 students but can accept up to 60 without further Board of Nursing approval.
The college is planning a series of information sessions to inform students and the general public about how to apply for the program. For more information contact Coleman at 354-2533 or email@example.com.