PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — The web site recently ranked Pasco-Hernando State College's Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) Program No. 1 in the state out of 164 programs.

"First of all, a great smile. This is just – without words," said PHSC President Timothy Beard of the news. "I'm hardly ever without words, but satisfying to say the least."

  • Pasco-Hernando State College's LPN program is 23 years old
  • Students log 1,350 hours of work including hands-on learning
  • BELOW: Other Bay area programs made the list
  • More Pasco County headlines

"Number one: pride," said Nursing and Health Programs Dean Billie Gabbard of her initial reaction. "I am so proud of what our faculty, our support staff, and our students have been able to accomplish."

The site states its goal is to simplify prospective nursing students' search for the school or program that's right for them by compiling data on what's available in each state. According to the site, pass rates for state board exams played a role in the rankings. While the overall pass rate in Florida is 75 percent according to the site, Gabbard said 100 percent of PHSC's LPN students who took the exam passed during each of the last four quarters.

The 23-year-old program is 11 months long. Gabbard said students log 1,350 hours of work during that time, usually clocking in 30-35 hours a week at the school.

"They then go home, and they do homework. They come in, they go to the hospital settings, they go to long term cares to do clinical. They are very, very busy. They're here more than they are at home," said Gabbard.

"It has been a real testament to hard work,” said K-Lanie Martinez, who's set to graduate from the program next month. "A lot of us work and then come to class, and we’re an evening program. So, really – time management."

On campus, the students train through both coursework and hands-on learning, courtesy of four simulation labs.  The "patients" are mannequins that simulate everything from blinking to birth and can even talk to the students.

"Hopefully, the outcome would be better outcomes for patients in the hospital who maybe have some sort of emergency situation that occurs," said Clinical Lab Simulation Instructor Julie Monsegur.

"This is as real as it gets, in here," said Martinez.

Florida Center for Nursing Executive Director Mary Lou Brunell said the state is facing a critical situation right now as far as a shortage of both LPNs and registered nurses. Data from June 2018 shows that 44 percent of working LPNs are older than 50 years old and may retire in the next five to 10 years.

Brunell also said the center is seeing a concerning decrease in growth of LPN programs. One reason for this: it can be difficult to find space in medical facilities like hospitals for LPN students to receive clinical training. Gabbard said PHSC has hospital partners that support their LPN students and noted the Florida Board of Nursing has said students can do up to half of their clinical time in a simulation lab.

"We are building, and we are building, and we are building," said Gabbard. "So, that is a way that we can perhaps offset the ability to take in more students, simply because if we can't get them into the hospitals and we can't get them into the long term cares, we can create those simulated experiences here."

Gabbard said there's always a higher demand for entry into the program than there are seats available. She said the school recently accepted 72 students for the program on two of PHSC’s campuses. Next up: continued development of simulation, working to maintain that number one status, and preparing students to help patients in need.

While PHSC's program topped's list, other Tampa Bay programs also made the top 15. Traviss Technical College in Lakeland came in second, Galen College of Nursing in St. Petersburg ranked seventh, Erwin Technical College in Tampa made the list at number eight, Marion Technical College in Ocala was ninth, Manatee Technical College in Bradenton was 13th, and Withlacoochee Technical College in Inverness came in at No. 15.