To fight a nursing shortage, it sometimes helps to bring the nursing students to you.
The newly-minted Murray at Mercy nursing program, started in mid-January at Mercy Hospital in Ardmore, brings Murray State College faculty to the hospital to teach a two-year nursing program. The hospital renovated part of their Old Tower building into a small education facility, complete with faculty offices, simulation labs and lounges for students and faculty. During an open house held Thursday, MSC Nursing Program Chair Robin Coppedge said the location was “just perfect.”
“We do a lot of simulation, especially the first semester,” Coppedge said. “It’s going to be perfect for student instruction in real time.”
The third floor of the Old Tower building, originally an intensive care unit, has been unused for years and had to be updated for the program. Two hospital rooms were converted to simulation rooms, and the student lounge contains extra outlets for electronics.
“It’s very student-friendly and welcoming,” Coppedge said. “It’s kind of hard to remember this being an ICU.”
An archway at the end of the hall marks the spot where major renovations stopped. Coppedge said more classrooms might be added to the floor in the future, when the campus is serving more students at different grade levels. Currently, the program is only serving 15 new students, scheduled to graduated in 2020.
“We put this frame here because we were thinking we would start here, but once we got going we realized no, we’re probably going to (expand),” Coppedge said. “They do need storage and things.”
The Mercy Health Foundation contributed funding to the renovations.
MSC President Joy McDaniel attended the open house as well. She said Murray and Mercy worked together to create the program to help the hospital with staffing issues.
“The hospital needed a spring graduating class because they were not able to hire enough nurses after the May graduation date,” McDaniel said. “They’d have to wait a whole year before the next class graduated.”
McDaniel said she, Coppedge and others made the conscious choice to staff the Mercy campus with faculty from the Tishomingo campus.
“We figured it was better to send our seasoned faculty for the new program,” McDaniel said. “Some of them live in Tish, some of them live closer to here and drove to Tishomingo. We put the ones here that we knew would generate success.”
Debbie Pender, Mercy Ardmore’s vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer, contacted the college, suggesting a second program that would graduate in January to help fill the gap.
“It’s kind of this never-ending thing that happens every May,” Pender said.
Pender, a former Mercy faculty member, emailed Coppedge last January, shortly after East Central University announced plans to pull their nursing program out of the University Center of Southern Oklahoma. Pender said MCS has been holding clinicals at Mercy Ardmore since at least the 70s, and a significant chunk of Ardmore’s nurses are Murray graduates, and many have returned as faculty members.
“Robin came to me and I said, ‘Well, I never really thought about it, but it makes perfect sense,’” McDaniel said.
The two-year program will dovetail with other schools’ four-year nursing programs, so students who start at Murray may earn their four-year degree smoothly through what’s known as “Two Plus Two.”  
MSC’s Tishomingo campus is expanding its medical course offerings as well, offering classes for lab technicians and medical information technology.