Holston Valley Signs Agreement with Mountain Empire Community College to Increase Nursing Students

July 19, 2017 | Kingsport, Tenn.

Building on their longtime successful relationship, Wellmont Health System and Mountain Empire Community College are establishing an innovative new program that will increase the supply of registered nurses providing care.

An agreement between Holston Valley Medical Center and the Virginia Appalachian Tricollege Nursing Program at MECC in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, will enable students to obtain an associate’s degree in nursing – which qualifies graduates to take the licensure exam to become RNs – in a convenient manner.

To accommodate those who need an alternative schedule, students will be able to complete their studies at the college and their clinical training at the hospital during the evening and on weekends.

Through this initiative, MECC will raise the number of nursing students it enrolls annually by at least 20. It is an important move by the hospital and the college to address one of the more pressing needs nationwide in the health care industry.

“This collaborative approach between Holston Valley and MECC will help ensure we have a sufficient number of nurses well into the future,” said Dr. Lisa Smithgall, who serves as Holston Valley’s vice president of patient care services. “In focusing on serving our patients, we want a comprehensive succession plan to replace nurses as they complete their careers. Our agreement with MECC accomplishes our goal nicely.”

The agreement was discussed during a news conference Wednesday, July 19, at Holston Valley.

The 20 new students in MECC’s nursing program, who will start in the fall semester, will be divided into two groups. Half of them will not yet hold a license in any nursing field when they begin their studies, and they will finish their coursework and training in six semesters. The other half will be licensed practical nurses who seek to become registered nurses, and they will complete their academic requirements and training in four semesters.

MECC will not need to add any full-time faculty members to accommodate these students, but as part of the agreement, Wellmont will provide funds for the college to hire a part-time faculty member. This person will have a role in the skills and assessment courses and assist in the college’s simulation lab.

Dr. Kathy Mitchell, who serves as dean of the tricollege nursing program, said the collaboration between Wellmont and MECC will benefit the region.

“For a long time, health care professionals throughout the country have talked about the shortage of registered nurses and the need to strengthen the pipeline of students choosing this field as a career,” she said. “We are excited to have developed this expansion of the Virginia Appalachian Tricollege Nursing Program at MECC so we can continue to meet patients’ needs in our area.

“Our approach of offering admission to students who can complete their coursework and clinical education in the evenings and during the weekend will provide schedule flexibility that will allow them to still take care of their other work or personal responsibilities.”

These students will receive priority consideration for nurse technician positions and registered nursing positions at Wellmont facilities. The health system will also endeavor to offer job commitments to students during their final two semesters.

“Our nurses play an essential role in the health and well-being of our patients, and we are excited to have found another avenue to encourage those who are interested in entering this noble profession,” said Tim Attebery, Holston Valley’s president. “MECC has been a valuable contributor of qualified nurses to facilities throughout our organization, and we welcome this opportunity to work further with the college to enhance our region’s quality of life.”

The tricollege nursing program, which also includes Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon, Virginia, and Southwest Virginia Community College in Cedar Bluff, Virginia, has more than 4,500 alums, with nearly 4,000 of them living in the counties Wellmont serves. Wellmont has about 2,200 licensed professional nurses, and about 700 of them serve at Holston Valley.

“MECC is pleased to be working closely with Holston Valley to advance the careers of women and men who are interested in serving as nurses,” said Dr. Kristen Westover, the college’s president. “We have enjoyed close ties not only with Holston Valley but also Wellmont’s hospitals in Southwest Virginia as well as other regional health care providers. We believe this newest agreement will strengthen our relationship with the region and build an excellent framework for the future of health care and the area’s economy.”

This agreement is the latest Wellmont has reached with local higher education institutions to increase the number of nurses. In 2016, Holston Valley partnered with East Tennessee State University to create an accelerated bachelor of science in nursing program. And in May, Bristol Regional Medical Center reached a similar agreement with Virginia Highlands.