To help remove barriers to joining the nursing and respiratory therapy field, Medical Center Hospital and Odessa College announced an agreement Wednesday to help cover the cost of tuition for students attending nursing school.

The news conference was held in the board room of Medical Center Hospital. The agreement was approved by the Ector County Hospital District Board of Directors on June 7, a news release detailed.

MCH created an application process for students who are interested in having their tuition covered, with a guarantee of employment for at least two years at MCH upon their graduation.

Existing and new students enrolled in the OC Nursing Program are eligible to apply now for the MCH Nursing Scholarship.

Director of Public Relations Trevor Tankersley said University of Texas Permian Basin has an agreement with Medical Center as well.

Hospital President and CEO Russell Tippin said the joint effort with Odessa College looks to “our own community to meet our own healthcare needs” and grow their own nurses and respiratory therapists.

“I can’t tell you or express how excited I am about this …,” Tippin said.

He added that one of his key phrases in life is that “we are better together.”

“… When you work with partners and you work with people who have common goals and have the love for community, for Texas, for West Texas, for Odessa, that’s how things get accomplished. A lot of people like to come into West Texas and tell us how to do things and how things should happen. But honestly, West Texas people care better for West Texas people and we know what goes on. We all have a little sand in our teeth. We all know that we haven’t had rain in 250 days or however long it’s been. But I know this, and I’ve been a patient, most of y’all have been a patient. If you haven’t been, you will be and I know how much better it makes our patients feel when they look up from the bed, or they’re getting ready to go to sleep in surgery, or they’re getting dialysis, or whatever it is, when they speak to their nurse that their nurse is a Texan. And also that their nurse is a West Texan and that they’re nurses from the Permian Basin. I know that we’re excited about that, too,” Tippin said.

He added that there is a “huge need” for healthcare providers in the Permian Basin and that it only made sense to join forces with OC to help fill that need.

“… Medical Center’s role in that is simple, and that was to say yes, and not only to say yes, but take down the barriers to make sure that when somebody wants to become a nurse, wants to become a LVN, wants to be an RN, wants to be a respiratory therapist, whatever it is that we remove the barriers that we can to get them into a program, get them educated, and then put them in the workforce right here at Medical Center Hospital. So we’re very excited about that,” Tippin said.

Chief Nursing Officer Christin Timmons said she is an OC graduate.

“Almost 25 years ago, I made the step across that stage and they handed me my nursing pin and my stethoscope and sent me on my way. And here I am at the hospital leading the charge and all of the nursing and clinical care that we give here. Nursing is the heart of healthcare,” Timmons said.

She added that a lot of people touch patients’ lives every day, but the nurse is the most instrumental person in the life of patients and families.

“So to partner with Odessa College, to support nurses, their growth and their career advancements … is nothing short of very meaningful work for us here at Medical Center Hospital,” Timmons said.

Allissa Cornelius, dean of the College of Health Sciences at OC, said this is not the first time the college has partnered with MCH.

In 2021, MCH invested $5 million into the Wood Health Sciences Building that is currently under construction. The building will include the Medical Center Health System’s simulation hospital because of that investment, she said.

“… Our students are going to have a state-of-the-art, exciting, realistic place to train and become the Basin’s best healthcare professionals. Leadership also shows up in our classrooms. They show up in our clinical simulations to pour into our students. This is a priceless opportunity for our students to experience nursing leadership at Medical Center Hospital and form relationships with the people that will be their future supervisors and future colleagues,” Cornelius said.

“… At OC, we are all about supporting our students and creating realistic pathways and affordable options for everyone to earn their degree. We understand that college is a commitment and that our students are dealing with life and all the ups and downs that come with that. This scholarship opportunity doesn’t just address the financial barrier for some of our students. It also aids in giving our students a home; giving them a sense of peace and belonging because they know where they’re going after graduation. …,” Cornelius said.

Tippin said the hospital will create a dedicated fund for students and MCH will try to help as many students as they can.

Timmons said some students may only have six months left to their training.

“… I think we’re willing to do just about all we can do to get people in that program,” Tippin said.

He noted that the investment in the program is much less than bringing in a contract nurse. Turnover costs money and vacancies cost money, “so we feel like our investment will be less than what we would spend in our current pattern, so we’ve got to get out of that pattern. We’ve got to fill those holes.”

Timmons said there are 600-650 nurses of all types and there are 65 openings.

There is a nationwide nursing shortage and Timmons said nurses are the relay between the provider and the patient.

“We’re the eyes and ears of everything that touches that patient, so they’re very instrumental in the overall care that they deliver and the presence that they have in our organization,” Timmons said.

She added that there are not many respiratory therapist programs in the area “and they don’t produce a lot.”

“We have about 15 respiratory therapy openings and that’s on the conservative side,” Timmons said.

Currently the closest program to Odessa is in Midland.

Tyler Lowrey, an LVN transitioning to registered nurse, works in case management as needed at MCH. She also is a wife and mother.

She plans to work for MCH after she finishes her RN and she has applied for the scholarship.

“I did my LVN at Odessa College. I think it’s a wonderful program, that’s why I went back. I think the partnership with Medical Center is wonderful. I think it will help a lot of people who need that financial stress taken off them while they’re in nursing school. Nursing school is very, very hard and very stressful …,” Lowrey said.

“My kids take up a lot of my time. I love them. I try to give them as much time as I give my studying. … I believe that I was supposed to be two things in life and that was a mom and a nurse. I knew from a very, very young age that I was going to be a nurse. Life experience, a personal experience in my life, very young, made me know that nursing was what I was meant to do …,” she added.