Tarleton State University will receive more than $200,000 to participate in a study designed to evaluate using actual patient care versus simulations for teaching nursing students, among other nursing education issues.

Part of a $1.8 million project from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) involving four higher education institutions and six Dallas-Fort Worth hospitals, the 30-month study involving 1,500 nursing students will attempt to define the best range of clinical hours for nursing students, and the distribution of those hours between patient care and simulations.

The goal is to develop nursing and competency standards that can be applied across the state. The University of Texas-Arlington is the lead institution, with Tarleton’s Department of Nursing the other university program. Also participating are two-year programs at El Centro and Brookhaven. The Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council will coordinate the participation of participating health systems.

“This will affect how we evaluate nursing students in our courses,” said Dr. Elaine Evans, professor of nursing and Tarleton project director on the grant. “For instance, we will look at how many clinical hours are critical for the students, how many hours should be spent with clients in the hospitals versus how many hours in simulations. We hope to get an idea of what’s really important in nursing education.”

Clinical and competency hours across the state vary from 600 to more than 1,000, Evans said. The grant was created to establish a set number of hours that pre-licensed undergraduate nursing students will need to be considered competent upon graduation.

The $214,171 in grant funds will enable the university to hire a graduate assistant, support faculty and staff salaries, and purchase new software for simulations. Part of the project goal is to standardize simulation software across nursing programs in Texas.

Nursing standards include successful completion of an undergraduate curriculum and passing the National Council Licensure Examination. The project “responds to the increasing challenges associated with acquiring and retaining clinical placement sites, the costs associate with providing clinical practice sites, trends in instructional technologies and workforce needs and expectations,” said Evans.

The grant was provided to aid in the Nursing Shortage Reduction Act, passed by the Texas legislature in 2001 in response to the increasing demands for qualified nurses in Texas.