By Chris McGuinness

Killeen Daily Herald

As the health care job market expands, hospitals in Central Texas hope to hire the most educated and prepared staff.

The growing need for skilled employees is driving many hospitals to create new programs and partnerships in the field of health education.

"When you are looking for nurses and staff, you need to make sure they are trained in the latest techniques and technology," said Shanna Sibberson, director of education for Metroplex Hospital, "and that they can apply what they have learned to a real-world setting."

Sibberson runs the hospital's nursing internship program, which welcomes recent nursing graduates and those looking for training in new areas.

The program, which runs once each summer and spring, is a combination of learning in a lab environment and supervised field work with actual patients.

"(The interns) must have their state boards to apply, and we preselect many of them while they are still in school," Sibberson said. "The idea is they get to learn the essential skills in the labs, then use them effectively in real-life situations."

The goal of the program is to prepare the interns for lasting careers with Metroplex.

"I think one of the things that's great about the program is the confidence you get from working in a hands-on setting," said Diana Haug, a nurse who went though the maternal nursing intern program in 2009 and now works as the hospital's employee health nurse. "You come out of school knowing how to do a lot of these things, but you need the confidence to apply that in a real-world setting."

In addition to providing internship opportunities to graduates, many providers partner with local colleges and universities to help prepare students for careers in the health care field.

Sharon Souter, dean of the Scott & White College of Nursing at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, said the university's partnership with Scott & White Healthcare gives students the chance to practice hands-on patient care under professional supervision.

"Without these partnerships, there's only so much each of us can do," said Souter.

Scott & White also partnered with Temple College and the Texas A&M University System's College of Medicine to open a clinical simulation center at Temple College in 2004.

The center provides space and technology for students, first responders and health care professionals to take part in realistic clinical experiences. It has been so popular that it expanded in 2010, said Neil Coker, director of simulation programs for Temple College.

"These partnerships are critical, because they not only provide a chance for students to learn the right skills, but it opens up a dialogue between (providers) and colleges to share ideas."

Coker said the collaboration also lowered costs for local taxpayers.

"You are seeing a bigger benefit to the whole community," he said. "Something like the simulation center would be almost impossible without these partnerships."

Souter agreed, and said her university was thankful for the opportunities to collaborate to create an educated workforce.

"It's a win-win situation," she said. "The students are getting a quality education, and (providers) get to have a direct effect on the kind of employee they want in the future."

Contact Chris McGuinness at or (254) 501-7568.

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