Pittsburgh Technical Institute nursing program showing promise

(Pittsburgh Post Gazette) The practical nursing program at Pittsburgh Technical Institute in North Fayette is not quite 2 years old, but it’s off to a great start, achieving full approval from the State Board of Nursing.

The first class of 12 students started the program in July 2010 and graduated 12 months later. After completing the PTI program, 100 percent of them passed the state licensure exam the first time they took the test, which surpassed the 80 percent benchmark established by the State Board of Nursing. Passing the test qualified them to work as licensed practical nurses.

And that wasn’t their only success. All 12 landed jobs in their field.

“Any time we are talking about adding a new program, we do a feasibility study,” said Eileen Riley, vice president of education at Pittsburgh Technical Institute.

School officials consider whether the program meets PTI’s mission, whether it fits community and industry needs, and, she said, “will they be able to be employed?”

The State Board of Nursing actually requires that a need exists for a program before it approves a new one, said Lynette Jack, chairwoman of the nursing department at PTI.

Pennsylvania will have a 32 percent shortage of licensed practical nurses by 2016, according to The Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information and Analysis.

Lynsi Ireson, a graduate of PTI’s first licensed practical nursing class, said she is pleased with the PTI program and loves her nursing job at a long-term care facility for elderly patients.

“I’ve wanted to be a nurse since I was little,” said Ms. Ireson, who graduated from South Fayette High School in 2009.

She knew about PTI because her mother had worked there. And, she said, when she did an Internet search for practical nursing programs, “there is not much available locally.”

The PTI training prepares students to work in a variety of places, including hospitals, doctor’s offices, nursing homes, hospice, community health agencies, home health care service and rehabilitation centers.

Ms. Ireson said she likes working at a long-term care facility because she gets to bond with patients who will be in there for a long time, unlike in a hospital, where patients generally go home after a short stay.

She said PTI teachers and staff were very helpful in assisting graduates in obtaining jobs.

Depending on the employer, a licensed practical nurse’s duties include helping with treatment plans, distributing medications, administering fluids, giving immunizations and helping with patient education, according to PTI.

A practical nurse works under the supervision of doctors, dentists and/or registered nurses.

The average salary for PTI graduates is $35,500, officials said.

Each practical nursing student must serve 1,086 clinical hours, which is 69 percent of the curriculum. Students put in those hours at a variety of facilities, including gerontology work at Kane Regional Centers of Allegheny County and obstetrical/gynecological work at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.

Twenty percent of a student’s clinical time is spent on campus because PTI is one of the practical nursing programs in Pennsylvania that offers an on-site simulation lab, Ms. Riley said.

The lab looks like a hospital room and contains a dummy that serves as a “patient,” which “breathes” when a student performs CPR and turns blue if a student fails to revive it.

When most people think of technical schools, they usually think of technical courses rather than nursing programs.

Pittsburgh Technical Institute, founded in 1946, provides “career-focused education,” according to its news release. It offers two-year degree and certificate programs in areas including building technology, business, criminal justice, design, health care, technology and, now, nursing.

The second practical nursing class started in July 2011, and the third class, which started in January, includes three men.

Many students are “non-traditional,” school officials said, which means they are older than traditional college students.