KINGSPORT - More folks are becoming licensed practical nurses in the Kingsport area thanks to the Tennessee Technology Center at Elizabethton and a local hospital and hospital system.
With nursing students looking on in a Holston Valley Medical Center conference room, Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Charles Manning honored Holston Valley and Wellmont Health System officials Wednesday with the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Philanthropy.
Wellmont has given more than $200,000 in support of the Tennessee Technology Center's LPN program in Kingsport.
"We are all humbled that the chancellor would come up and honor us," said Dr. Richard Salluzzo, president and chief executive officer of Wellmont.
The courses are taught at the East Tennessee State University Center near Allandale.
Tennessee Technology Center (TTC) Director Jerry Patton said the monetary contribution doesn't count equipment donations and "invaluable advice and support" to the Board of Regents on nursing issues in general.
Holston Valley has contributed to the program since its inception in 2002. In the fall of 2005, the program became permanent and self-sustaining. Since then, more than 60 students from Sullivan and Hawkins counties have graduated from the program, and another 50 students are currently enrolled in the Kingsport nursing class.
In September 2006, TTC at Elizabethton graduated a record 134 students. Patton said 99 percent of TTC's graduates pass their LPN nursing exams, with many graduates entering the work force and others transferring to ETSU or a community college to become a registered nurse.
"I'm probably going to try to work and try to get my RN at the same time," said Ashlee Dye, a 28-year-old Church Hill resident in the TTC's Kingsport LPN program and one of those at the Wednesday announcement. She wants to be a surgical nurse.
She's already attended ETSU but said she saw the TTC program as a quicker track to a job.
Denielle Jayne, a 22-year-old Kingsporter, said she plans to get RN certification before seeking a job as an obstetrics nurse. She's already had some basic classes at Mountain Empire Community College.
In more than 20 years of nursing programs, the TTC has graduated about 2,000 LPNs. School spokesman Bob Robinson said about half the school's 200 students are in a nursing program.
After the news conference, Manning said nursing programs at technology centers statewide have grown 30 percent.
The board, which oversees all public higher education statewide outside the University of Tennessee system, is working to make more LPN and RN degrees available, from one-year degrees at the TTC to associate, bachelor's and master's degrees.
Some programs will use online offerings targeting working nurses who want to advance their education and careers, he said.
Patton also lauded the recently approved associate's degree program at Northeast State Technical Community College, the first associate's nursing degree program approved in Tennessee in seven years. It allows students to become registered nurses after three years instead of the bachelor's degrees that take five years.
"It gives my (LPN) students another opportunity here to pursue their RN degree," Patton said.
Those in attendance included Mayor Dennis Phillips, Kingsport Chamber of Commerce President Miles Burdine, Northeast State President Bill Locke and representatives of ETSU and its school of pharmacy.
Manning also thanked Wellmont for allowing the use of an auditorium at Bristol Regional Medical Center for graduation ceremonies, and students use both hospitals as clinical training sites.
Salluzzo urged the nursing students in attendance to help advance health care.
"You're going to be our future. So please, take health care and make it better over the next 30 years. That's all that I ask of you."
For more information on the TTC nursing program, go to www.elizabethton.tec.tn.us.