By Selene Rodriguez
In response to an ongoing shortage of health care professionals in the Rio Grande Valley, a field that occupies over 25% of the region’s total employment, 80 industry representatives and school districts recently gathered at South Texas College to discuss how to support and encourage students to pursue careers in the medical field.
As the first institution in the nation to offer a registered nursing apprenticeship and the top producer of nurses in Texas, STC collaborated with Hospital Corporation of America (HCA Healthcare) and Educate Texas to host the conference “Building Health Care Leaders of Tomorrow.”
“Health care is a top priority for STC, we continue to exert all of our efforts and resources to provide students the best opportunities to succeed through a wide array of certificates and degrees,” said STC President Ricardo J. Solis, Ph.D. “We are already the largest producer of nurses in Texas, but we want to grow that number even more. We can only achieve that with the help of our industry partners who provide us with the faculty and the school districts who guide their students through our doors.”
According to data presented by Educate Texas, the Health Care and Social Assistance sector employs more than 175,000 individuals in the RGV, surpassing any other sector in the region.
In 2021, 4,502 degrees and certifications in health professions and related programs were awarded, yet faced a significant deficit against a market with 27,537 openings, the largest disparity among workforce values.
“The thought of pursuing a medical degree may seem intimidating at first to these young high school students, which is why we have created pathways for them to earn certificates that will allow them to work and explore careers within the field,” said STC Dean of Nursing and Allied Health Jayson Valerio, DNP. “Students can start with a Patient Care certificate, a one-semester program that leads to many other professions such as Vocational Nursing, Respiratory Therapy, Emergency Medical Services or even a bachelor degree in Nursing (BSN).”
Patient Care Technician is one of the occupations with the biggest opportunity in employment with 271 emerging graduates against a demand of 12,128 openings, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For registered nurses, where graduates with a BSN could earn an average of $71,730, the regional demand is far from reached with 615 awards given against 961 openings.
Other professions facing shortages are Medical Coding, Health Care Administration, Medical Office Specialist and Physical Therapist Assistant.
“Having this knowledge about specific data from our region is incredibly helpful and it’s something the students constantly ask us for, the best way to get a job and make money,” said Clara Rodriguez, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) Early College High School counselor. “Everybody wants to be a doctor or a nurse, but there are so many other choices in the field where they can use their talents. I appreciate this invitation to learn more about the specific careers offered literally down the road from our school.”
Participants also had the opportunity to gain insights into the current health care needs of the region through a panel of experts, consisted of dedicated and experienced members from the health care industry.
“In the aftermath of the pandemic and whether it is fear or financial issues, people delay health care more and more which can aggravate an illness,” explained Kathleen Dassler, chief nursing officer at Rio Grande Regional Hospital. “We need to bring in more students to adapt to these demands, not only in nursing, but at every single discipline. We are excited to keep collaborating with STC by providing adjunct faculty, clinical site opportunities and growing these programs even more.”
A panel of students was also featured, allowing attendees to receive direct feedback from students in various programs such as Associate Degree in Nursing, Vocational Nursing, Physical Therapist Assistant, Occupational Therapy Assistant and Respiratory Therapy.
They unanimously highlighted key success elements when pursuing a medical degree, emphasizing the significance of effective time management, identifying the right pathway and being prepared to make sacrifices while prioritizing school, an effort that ultimately leads to a significant reward.
“We have rigorous programs and criteria because our students will ultimately deal with people’s lives. That’s why we are the only community college in the area with a state-of-the-art clinical simulation hospital, helping them grow their hands-on skills in a safe and controlled environment,” added Valerio. “But it’s not just about skills; it’s also about values, emotional intelligence, and communication skills. We aim to be a beacon of hope, shaping compassionate and skilled professionals who will contribute to the prosperity of our region, one student at a time.”
For more information on STC’s Nursing and Allied Health programs visit nah.southtexascollege.edu or call 956-872-3100.