A crowd gathers around to watch the Averett University nursing faculty and staff examine the patient’s airway. The patient’s chest visibly rises and falls with each beat of his heart. His pulse can be felt in the usual locations. He responds to medicine just like any other human would.

But this patient is different: his eyes are LED lights, controlled by a tablet and changed to represent different conditions such as jaundice or cataracts. The staff can change the mannequin's gender and arrange different scenarios for students, all while tracking the patient’s condition and the students' actions on the tablet. This Ares model mannequin, which is the most advanced that Averett University owns, is one of the many in their supply. 

This public demonstration is part of a news conference and celebration of Averett University’s new Master of Science in nursing degree program. The program will allow students to choose between two specializations: family nurse practitioner or emergency nurse practitioner. Averett joins a list of only a dozen schools nationwide that have emergency nurse programs, none of which are in Virginia or North Carolina.

An emergency nurse practitioner is specially trained and qualified to care for people with serious, life-threatening injuries, illnesses and trauma, and can work in level one trauma centers, according to the news release.

Family nurse practitioners possess diverse skill sets which allow them to function as a family’s primary health care provider. According to a news release, this ability to diagnose, examine and prescribe is “particularly valuable in underserved and rural areas where physicians may be few.”

The first cohort of family nurse practitioner students will begin the six-semester program in January, and the first emergency nurse practitioner students will begin the two-semester program in May. 

One of the major goals with this program is to improve health care locally and in the surrounding communities.

“We hope this will encourage these nurses to stay close, serving the people in rural Virginia and North Carolina where the need for qualified and experienced health care professionals is great,” University President Tiffany Franks said in a news release.

Dr. Pamela Giles, dean of the Averett School of Nursing, says the program has been in the works for the past three years. The university had been considering it for some time before that, but they didn’t decide to pursue it fully until a potential donor approached Franks and suggested it to her.

“That kicked things into high gear,” Giles said. “I’m so delighted to add one more reason for people to come and live and work in our beautiful town and attend Averett University."

As far as the family nurse practitioner program, university administrators believe that its students will provide significant value in the medical field. 

“We’ve heard directly from health care industry leaders... that they need FNPs to help meet their patient loads,” said Franks.

Tyler Campbell, who will begin his senior year in the nursing program and is already an advanced emergency medical technician here in Danville, was interested in an emergency nurse practitioner program when he started at Averett, but he didn’t know where he would go. Now, he is excited to stay in Danville to complete the program.

“This program will lay the foundation of the evolution of nursing education in Southside Virginia… I look forward to furthering my education through this groundbreaking program,” he said.

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Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.

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