Academic Partnerships Beneficial to Everyone

Cynthia O'Neal, Ph.D., RN

By Ginger Hall Carnes

As the UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing continues to strengthen its partnerships with two local health care systems, students receive invaluable clinical experience, hospitals gain prospective employees who already know their health systems, and patients are the ultimate beneficiaries.

Partnerships with the Methodist Healthcare System (MHS) and the South Texas Veterans Hospital System (STVHCS) through its Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital progressed with the inception of the Dedicated Education Unit (DEU) teaching-learning model with MHS in 2011 and expanded to STVHCS in 2012.

“We wanted to enhance student education,” said Cynthia O’Neal, Ph.D., RN, associate dean for undergraduate studies. Faculty members oversee the entire experience; each student is assigned to a nurse, who serves as a lead teacher making sure that, in addition to working with the student and caring for the patients, she’s reinforcing the curriculum being taught in the classroom. “The staff has to be dedicated to participating in the DEU model, and the unit has to make an investment because a nurse can’t take as many patients while working with a student,” Dr. O’Neal said.

The result? Patients receive stellar care. Nurses are fulfilled by giving back to students. Students feel welcomed and embraced, especially because of the consistency of working with one nurse for the seven weeks of a course.

At the VA, there have been 277 students who have gone through a DEU in the medical-surgical units since 2012.

In the Methodist system, 373 DEU students have gained clinical experience in obstetrics, pediatrics, and medical-surgical units. Participation in the DEU often leads to students applying to the Methodist internship program, Dr. O’Neal said. “After the internship and graduation, they’re on a career trajectory and may go on to serve as lead teachers in the DEU model. It’s a great pipeline.”

The Methodist internship program started with nine students in 2016. Since then, the program has grown steadily at seven of the Methodist hospital facilities, bringing the total number of Methodist interns by spring 2020 to 174.

Methodist interns earn a stipend and receive an additional 260 hours of clinical training over five months. They can be hired after passing the NCLEX. Students have a two-year commitment after graduation to work at Methodist. Nearly half of the accelerated track Class of 2020 has applied for a Methodist internship.

Jamie Lingsch, M.S.N., RN-BC, vice president, clinical and professional education, for Methodist Healthcare System, said, “We have hired 100 percent of the interns. They’re very dedicated to Methodist. They learn our culture and become part of the family. They have a faster trajectory of becoming nurse leaders, preceptors and charge nurses and are promoted into formal leadership as well.”

The VALOR (VA Learning Opportunities Residency) program at the VA hospital is federally funded and started with two nursing students in 2017 and expanded to three each in 2018 and 2019 and five in 2020 (three are veterans). The previous eight have been hired, which has prompted the government to fund more VALOR interns, according to Victoria Dittmar, M.S.N., RN, CNE, assistant professor/clinical, who serves as one of two VALOR coordinators.

“We find that the students interested in coming to the VA have some connection either to the military or a veteran. They truly want to serve veterans,” she said.

VALOR students complete the program during the last semester of their senior year under the leadership of a preceptor, a well-qualified RN. They work 400 hours during the summer. A strong interview process determines if they are a good match for a veterans’ facility. They are paid during the internship, and the goal is they will be hired after graduation.

A new graduate residency program at the VA hospital starting in fall 2020 will prepare post-graduate nurse practitioners, according to Valerie Rodriguez-Yu, M.S.N., RN, NEA-BC, associate director for patient care services. Two residents will be educated for 12 months in the primary care area and two in mental health.


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In the 2020 issue of Tribute

Tribute is the official magazine for the alumni and friends of the School of Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Read and share inspiring stories highlighting our alumni, faculty and students who are revolutionizing education, research, patient care and critical services in the communities they serve.

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