Nursing goes online

By Mickey Winfield: PNT Staff Writer

State-of-the-art laptop computers and a first-of-its-kind online nursing pilot program is aimed at changing the face of the area nursing shortage and attracting more nurses to Eastern New Mexico University.

ENMU’s nursing program purchased 25 brand new laptop computers with $90,000 of grant money from the New Mexico Higher Education Department to improve the program and make it easier for working nurses to get their degree.

Leslie Paternoster, the director of the Bachelor of Science: Nursing Completion Program at ENMU, said that a pilot program was set up for the spring semester to test the technical aspects of the class, so that it will be up and running for the fall semester.

The spring semester pilot program consists of 19 seniors who will log onto their laptops once a week for class.

“We asked the senior class if they would be our guinea pigs,” Paternoster said. “Because we wanted to test the technology with them. They were very happy, some of them have older computers so even those that have computers are extremely happy to have a brand new laptop to use.”

In addition to the laptops, the students will have access to WebX, an interactive delivery system for online classes, to meet once a week through their laptops.

“I’m a little apprehensive, because it’s a new program,” Paternoster said. “My main concern is someone who doesn’t know the program. And that’s why we’re doing this orientation — to show them how to get on and how to navigate in the program.”

Bernadette Chavez is a full-time registered nurse at Home Health Care and Hospice in Clovis and appreciates the convenience of the online course.

“It’s going to make it easier for the working nurse to have this type of a class set-up available to them,” Chavez said.

The computers are also fitted with cameras and microphones.

“It’s interactive,” Chavez said. “We have cameras that we’re going to physically be able to see each other, earphones and microphones so we can actually still have that interaction with our peers that you get in the traditional classroom setting.”

Students coming into the program were overwhelmingly in support of the online aspect of the class. According to Paternoster, 160 nurses coming into the program were surveyed and 84 percent of them wanted an online component to their nursing education.

And the program is also already starting to show results by luring many more nurses to ENMU.

“We’ve had an amazing amount of students call and want to join the program,” Paternoster said. “The most amount that we’ve had come into the program is 18 in a semester. And this semester, we’re looking at 70 (students).”

Since many nursing students also work at various times of the day, Paternoster said that the program may evolve into an online class that allows students to complete their course-work at any time of the day, and Chavez agrees.

“Some of the nurses that are in the program work graveyards and they don’t work a traditional 8 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) job, they work 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and they might need to log in at 3 a.m. and that’s feasible in this program.”

“I’m extremely excited,” Paternoster said. “Because to me, this is the edge of technology, this is truly it.”