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South Texas College Pecan campus on Wednesday, June 23, 2021, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

In a time where a nursing shortage has never been more prominent both locally and nationally, two South Texas institutions are excited about a new opportunity to bridge that gap making its way to the Rio Grande Valley.

The U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship in partnership with the Texas Workforce Commission announced Thursday that South Texas College has officially become the first college in the nation to be approved for the newly formed Registered Apprenticeship Program.

The new program, which will be focusing on a registered nurse occupation, is an “earn-while-you-learn model” which will allow students pursuing an associate’s degree in nursing to have access to paid training. 

“This is a significant precedent that will change the landscape of nursing education and inspire other institutions across the nation,” said STC Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Economic Development Rodney Rodriguez, Ph.D., in a news release.

The trainings throughout the program will be provided by local hospitals who will be working in partnership with STC. According to the release, DHR Health will be the first hospital providing apprenticeships.

DHR Health Chief Executive Officer Manish Singh explained that the partnership will allow physicians to provide nursing students with hands-on training, job placement and guidance as they continue their education in health care. Singh added that he hopes the program will help prepare the students to deliver “exceptional nursing care” to the Valley. 

“Through our partnership with STC, we are creating a Registered Nurse Apprenticeship Program that bridges the gap between education and real-work experience,” Singh said in the release. 

South Texas College nursing students gather with others to watch a press conference between STC and Hidalgo County on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

For STC’s Dean of Nursing and Allied Health Jayson Valerio, DNP, RN, this new program is a step in the right direction — a solution to the current nursing shortage.

“Our students, or apprentices, will get placed in a hospital, get assigned a preceptor who will mentor them through the entirety of the program and will be a guaranteed job for our student,” Valerio said in the release. “… (B)ecause the student will be acclimated to that hospital setting, it will minimize the training period. They’ll be ready to hit the ground running. This really is a win-win for everyone involved.”

According to the release, the U.S. Department of Labor has established that those who participate in the program “will not be paid less than $14 an hour,” which will gradually increase every semester. 

Not only will students be paid during the program but they will also have access to grants that will help cover student tuition and offset other costs and expenses.

The new program is estimated to begin as early as fall 2023 with their first cohort including 20 students. 

This is in line with local healthcare systems, such as DHR Health, recently pointing to education and recruitment partnerships with higher learning institutions as a means to help offset the current physician and nursing shortage seen throughout the nation.