What a difference a half century makes. Just consider the original structure near the administration building that housed Tarleton State University’s nursing department for over three decades, and compare it the department’s new digs across campus.

Department head Dr. Elaine Evans is understandably proud to show off the new building, all 53,000 square feet of it. Its three floors provide the up-dated accommodations and equipment whose predecessors had to make do with the 18,000 square feet afforded by the prior building, which had previously been the campus infirmary and health center before the creation of the nursing education department in 1976.

Despite the scoffs once aimed at the fledgling department at its very beginning, Tarleton’s nursing school has enjoyed surprising success. And Dr. Evans and her faculty can be credited with sending well-skilled nurses into the healthcare workforce. The facilities made available to the students now are why the term “state of the art” was coined.

Dr. Evans came to Tarleton in 1979, starting as part-time faculty. She became full time in 1980 and subsequently became the head of the department in 1989. She has certainly been witness to the many positive changes and improvements the nursing education program has enjoyed since its inception.

“We had about six people on staff when I first started. Now we have 17 full time instructors,” she said.

And it is a highly educated group as well.

“You have to have at least a Masters to teach here. Everyone has their Masters in nursing,” she said of her teaching staff.

Initially, Tarleton only offered a two year program for nursing. But eventually it was phased out and now it is a four year Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing offered. Soon a master’s degree will also be available.

Dr. Evans sees healthcare making a dramatic change, which has led to the necessity of her department’s impressive environment and equipment.

“One big difference is the shortened days a person is actually in the hospital. A patient who stays hospitalized is much sicker,” she said, which understandably leads to the necessity of well-prepared professionals on hospital staff.

These advancements in the education available to nursing students cannot come about quickly enough. As baby boomers age, the need for qualified nurses will do nothing but continue to increase. And the quality conscious generation will call for even more excellence in the health care field.

“Typically we are going to find the elderly of the future to be healthier. And they will expect more out of the healthcare system,” Dr. Evans explained.

The medical training equipment available to students has come a long way from the days of practicing injection techniques on an orange.

Case in point is the lab of IV simulators. Each simulator costs about $11,000. And these revolutionary devices allow students a more hands-on approach to the practice of starting IV lines on patients.

“Students have to actually feel for a vein in order to make a decision on what size catheter (needle) to use based on the size of the vein. It can range from a child’s, adult’s or elderly adult’s vein,” Dr. Evans said.

The second floor boasts two five bed labs, and they are a bustle of activity. These are the main foundational labs where students can get true, real-life experience while working with the training robotic “patients.”

“Students can practice their basic skills here. The mannequins can be programmed with different heartbeats and medical scenarios. All of our beginning students start here,” Dr. Evans explained.

First semester students, Erin Dillingham and Katie Fowler, are recent additions to the nursing school. They had just returned from a local nursing home where they had worked with patients.

“It was a great experience,” Erin said. “We did a lot of unique things. We checked vital signs, helped with bed baths or showers.”

Katie was equally as excited about her excursion into the real world of medicine.

“It was really fun. My patient was awesome. I got to learn a lot about her,” she said.

The third floor is where the real action happens with a six unit advanced technology lab.

“This is similar to an intensive care unit and is primarily for our upper level students. We have cameras in every unit to capture what happens in the unit. Students are recorded and they can see the recording afterward to see if they did things correctly or not. In the event there are mistakes, the students can do it all over again,” Dr. Evans explained. “It’s a great teaching tool.”

She points to a mannequin.

“The high fidelity mannequins can simulate any disease, disorder or problem. The students have to assess and react, deciding what to do to take care of the patient,” she said.

“We don’t let the ‘patient’ die,” she added. “If something goes wrong, we stop the scenario and talk with the student. Then they can do it over.”

The predictions the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics shared with the public in April of last year warned the need for nursing professionals will continue to increase. Registered nurses are the largest segment of the healthcare industry, and their pivotal roles in the sector are not to be ignored.

And for its part, Tarleton has certainly risen to the occasion with an impressive facility and the supportive instructors who are in charge.