Sowela increasing nursing programs on LC, Leesville campuses

Published 12:23 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2023

By Emily Burleigh

Sowela Technical Community College will be increasing student capacity for nursing programs on the Lake Charles and Leesville Campuses starting in the summer of 2024.

Sowela received approval from the Louisiana State Board of Nursing (LSBN) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) earlier this year to add a spring Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN-RN) at the main campus and a Licensed Practical Nurse program to the Registered Nurse (LPN to RN) program at the Sowela Leesville campus, doubling Sowela’s RN-track programs and giving students four start-date options.

Increasing the number of accepted, qualified nursing students at Sowela’s campuses will address the current critical nursing shortages that are occurring locally and nationally.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the RN workforce is expected to grow by six percent over the next ten years. In Louisiana, it is estimated by the Louisiana Board of Regents that there will be a shortfall of about 6,000 nurses by 2030. This is 40 percent of the current workforce.

The demand for nurses is universal, said Kristine Stout, School of Nursing and Allied Health Dean, Sowela.

“All of them are up. It’s a constant turnover rate with nurses, as they get older they’re retiring. … There’s always a need, regardless if its urban, rural, there’s always a need.”

In light of this need, healthcare agencies rely on local colleges to run RN programs to  produce proficient nurses, she continued.

“In order for them to grow their hospitals, their clinics, their nursing homes, they have to have the nurses there to take care of those. … If we’re able to turn out more nurses, then that helps them to increase the capacity in which they can intake patients or residents.”

Dr. Paula Hellums, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, Sowela, told the American Press that they began looking to expand the RN program pre-pandemic after hearing from industry partners and recognizing the need for nurses.

“We didn’t want to turn away qualified applicants. We had been challenged by our system office, across the state, to be mindful of that and not turn away qualified applicants if we could avoid it.”

Post-pandemic – and following the slew of natural disasters that impacted Southwest Louisiana – they revisited the opportunity.

The nursing situation in Southwest Louisiana A is unique due to the combination of COVID-19 and natural disasters that took place between 2020 to 2021, said Stout. The events not only led to an increased need for qualified hands in the hospitals, but also a mass exodus that depleted the number of nursing students.

“Even though there was an increased need as far as healthcare – a lot of people moved out of the area or were displaced for extended periods of time, and so it just took us a little while to get everybody back into our area to where our numbers could get back up again.”

The decision to add a spring cohort was made to avoid overcrowding fall classrooms and clinical agency space, she said.

Just like the fall cohort, the classes in the spring will accept 50 qualified students each year, bringing the total of new RN students to 100.

At the Leesville Lamar Salter campus, the new LPN to RN program will give licensed practical nurses the opportunity to take the courses needed to become registered nurses in a familiar place.

“Having those students have the opportunity to come back to a familiar campus to me is a unique opportunity, and it gives them access to education, to become an RN, to go through that program, without having to come to Lake Charles,” said Hellums.

The expansions to the Leesville Lamar Salter campus will continue, including a new plumbing apprenticeship, said Sowela Chancellor Neil Aspinwall.

“What we’re trying to do is get targeted programs and drive enrollment to there. Not just repeat what we’re doing in Lake Charles.”

Last year, Sowela’s fall cohort had a 100 percent pass rate on the state-required clinical licensure exam. The LPN to RN program has had a 100 percent pass rate for the last three years.

The content of the exam changes every five years, and Sowela’s success despite the recent change is proof of the well-rounded education that the school provides, Stout said.

She attributed the success to the nursing faculty which is composed of “varied backgrounds and experiences.”

Hellums stated that Sowela will be increasing faculty and has already taken preliminary steps to increase lab space for students.