BRADENTON -- The calls kept coming in, said Sue Garland, who oversees the Associate in Science Degree in Nursing department at the State College of Florida.
Nursing classes need to be held on weekends or evenings, people would tell her.
"People were begging us for this," Garland said. "We just kept getting (the calls)."
This May, the State College of Florida ASN nursing program will offer classes during the weekends and evenings, and cater to working licensed practical nurses who want to advance their degree, but can't attend the already-existing day program.
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The expansion comes at
the same time enrollment in the four-year baccalaureate nursing program has grown enough that the school will split students into two cohorts starting in January.
School officials say the program's need for expansion speaks to its importance to the local community.
"It's been a rousing success," said college trustee Craig Trigueiro, a Bradenton physician who was crucial in finding the slots in local hospitals, particularly at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and Blake Medical Center for the weekend and evening students to do clinical work.
Garland said the college would initially accept a little more than 20 students into the new courses, but could always add more. Already, about 160 students graduate from the program each year.
Garland said it took a year to get the clinicals, classrooms and faculty in line.
Trigueiro said he's been pushing for expansion for awhile, and praised administration and the department for listening to the community's request to produce more nursing students.
"The problem has always been, until now, that there were more qualified students who wanted to be in the program than they could take," Trigueiro said.
That's true, Garland said, at least until last semester when enrollment dropped for the first time. School officials think it has to do with an upturn in the economy or a requirement that students take a pediatric nursing certification course before they apply. They expect enrollment to level out again after offering new times.
But enrollment has been consistent in the college's four-year baccalaureate program since the State College of Florida first began offering a bachelor's of science in nursing in 2010 to meet a local shortfall in nurses. In 2011, the first four-year class graduated around 38 students.
Dean of Nursing Beverly Hindenlang said the bachelor's program will produce its 100th graduate this month at the same it prepares to accept more students than ever. More than 60 students have applied for the spring semester that begins in January.
And for the first time, the program will teach two cohorts of roughly 25 students instead of one.
"As we have progressed we have consistently seen more students applying for the program," Hindenlang said. "We have been able to admit everybody that is academically ready."
More than ever, government agencies and hospitals want nurses that have bachelor's degrees, professionals say.
Like Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Hindenlang said, which is required to maintain a certain number of BSN nurses in order to keep its status as a magnet hospital. Hindenlang expects those quotas to only increase as time goes on.
Most professionals believe the degree ensures a higher depth of knowledge. While pursuing a bachelor's degree, registered nurses take more science classes, in addition to leadership and management classes. They also are required to do clinical work in the community outside of hospitals, such as in county health departments.
"Skill-wise there is no difference," Hindenlang said. "But we believe nurses that are bachelor's prepared have more skills when it comes to critical thinking and planning."
Recently, Trigueiro had a patient in his office who had been commuting to Hillsborough Community College to take classes. She had no idea about the availability of nursing classes at State College of Florida, and became excited about the prospect of pursuing her nursing career closer to home.
Trigueiro just wants the program to continue to thrive, and more people to know about it.
"This allows people," Trigueiro said, "to fulfill their dreams."
Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.