After two years of working to install video conferencing systems at sites in nine rural southwest Texas communities, the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing (GGHSON) at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) is ramping up its distance learning services to deliver health education to these remote parts of the state.
The systems were purchased with a $430,780 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service program and matching funds from TTUHSC El Paso.
The grant was awarded in 2016, and the equipment is now installed in nine rural locations and the GGHSON, said Penny Stout, assistant dean and chair at the GGHSON. Stout leads the project.
“In this grant, we provided collaborative equipment,” Stout said. “There’s a unit at each of the sites and in the school of nursing building to synchronously communicate educational content with them. The equipment also allows us to engage with them asynchronously, so we can record educational topics on demand through a video repository system.”
The nursing school has partnered with two rural hospitals and seven rural school districts for the program. In addition to health education at the schools, the video conferencing systems at the hospitals will allow nurses to participate in continuing education without the cost and time of travel. In addition to TTUHSC El Paso, the video conferencing systems have been installed at Presidio High School in Presidio, Alpine High School in Alpine, the Dell City ISD Library in Dell City, Sierra Blanca ISD in Sierra Blanca, Fort Hancock High School in Fort Hancock, Tornillo High School in Tornillo, Anthony High School in Anthony, the Pecos County Memorial Hospital in Fort Stockton and the Permian Regional Medical Center in Andrews.
“One of the challenges—and one of the reasons we included hospitals in the grant—is because the state board of nursing of Texas, and most states, require nurses to have continuing education to maintain their competence and their knowledge base,” Stout said. “The idea is that with the currently available content and with future content presentations, the nurses can stay in the community to receive the education they need to stay competent.”
With the technology now installed, Stout’s focus has shifted to providing educational content for the nine locations. This semester, the GGHSON’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing students in their Community Health course were assigned to produce educational content in areas the communities expressed interest in. TTUHSC El Paso faculty members vet the content before the videos and presentations are offered to the communities.
“We’re hoping that this impacts the health of those communities, but also impacts the education of our students to help understand how rurality can affect health,” Stout said. “Just like in El Paso, where we have a shortage of nurses, the rural communities sometimes have no nurses there. So, we’re hoping to engage our students in understanding the challenges and opportunities of rural health nursing, so that they might consider that as a career later.”