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NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) is introducing a new practical nursing (PN) program that students can complete in one year, aiming to bolster the region’s nursing workforce amid rising health care needs.

Mark Wallenmeyer, dean of health professions at NWACC, emphasized the program’s alignment with industry needs.

We try to listen to our industry partners’ needs and offer what programs we can use to better help the workforce in Northwest Arkansas,” said Dean Wallenmeyer. “This is one of the needs that we have heard from the community.  The practical nursing program will fill a necessity as the Northwest Arkansas population grows and the health care needs grow.”

The program offers a flexible, hybrid format, allowing students to set their own class hours.

Students can set their hours when they actually want to come to class,” said Carla Boyd, NWACC’s director of nursing. “They must come to class a specific number of hours each week. They can choose what day and time and how long they want to come.

NWACC’s nursing programs include partnerships with Mercy Hospital and Northwest Health, providing students with essential hands-on experience.

“These hospitals are vital to the health care needs of northwest Arkansas,” said Dean Wallenmeyer. “NWACC has great working relationships with each. Ninety-five percent of the graduates from the NWACC RN program stay in this area and fill the needs of the hospitals here.”

High school students at the Don Tyson School of Innovation can also take advantage of the practical nursing program through concurrent courses.

“NWACC has been working with the State Office of Skills Development to offer this practical nursing program at the high school level,” said Dean Wallenmeyer. “The high school program will only be offered initially at Don Tyson School of Innovation as part of NWACC’s Secondary Career Center.  The push is now for students at the high school level to graduate ready to enter the workforce.  This is one initiative that we are proud to be a part of with the State.”

The practical nursing program reflects NWACC’s broader efforts to meet the growing demand for a skilled nursing workforce in Northwest Arkansas. The college continues to support health care development through various initiatives and partnerships aimed at enhancing educational capacity and professional upskilling.

In a related effort, Arkansas has allocated more than $20 million in training grants through ALIGN grants, funded by  the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,  to support nursing development across the region. NWACC has received over $2 million of these funds. Mercy Hospital, a significant health care provider in the region, is also receiving substantial support to expand education opportunities for current and future nurses in partnership with NWACC.

“These initiatives will help address the nurse shortage in our region by helping us build capacity to train more nursing students, upskill lower-level professionals and provide further education for employed nurses, which will lead to higher-level positions and better job retention,” said Jacqueline Truesdale, chief nursing officer at Mercy Northwest Arkansas. 

This new program marks a significant step in preparing Northwest Arkansas to meet growing health care demands, providing a swift pathway for students to enter the nursing profession and support the community’s health and well-being.

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