There will be more options for students looking to get a nursing degree in Jefferson County after Madison Area Technical College announced Friday it is adding another program.

The change will almost double the number of nursing students between MATC’s Fort Atkinson and Watertown campuses.

“What we have decided to do is consolidate and bring in a new nursing program,” said James S. Falco, associate vice president of the regional Madison College campuses.

Currently, students enrolled in the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) at Madison College spend the first year at MATC-Watertown and the second year at the Fort Atkinson campus.

Starting in 2021, the ADN program will move entirely to the Watertown campus and a Licensed Practical Nurse, or LPN, program will be initiated at the Fort Atkinson campus as a one-year program.

“We are trying to fill the needs we are hearing. And that is prevalent in health care with the need for nurses,” Falco said.

During the past 10 months, Falco said, MATC officials have been looking at the needs for health-care programs in the eastern region of the state. They have been studying labor market needs and talked to faculty, students and health-care providers about what’s needed.

State Rep. John Jagler, R-Watertown, met with MATC officials last week to voice concerns over the possibility of the program changing at the Watertown campus.

In a statement, Jagler said that Madison College was looking at changing the Watertown program to an LPN program.

“The original decision didn’t take into account that the Watertown Regional Medical Center doesn’t even employ LPNs,” he said.

Jagler said that he was informed that the program would not move from the campus, but actually become the home of that degree for this area.

Current students enrolled in the ADN program will continue to go to Watertown for the first year and Fort Atkinson the next year.

The associate degree program in Watertown will be able to accommodate 24 students. Falco said the Fort Atkinson LPN program will hold around 16 to 20 students.

“We are excited about it and excited about it for the communities,” Falco said.

Without the change, students looking to do a one-year LPN program currently have to drive to MATC’s new South Campus in Madison that opened this fall.

The Wisconsin Center for Nursing is forecasting a shortage of 1,000 nurses a year. Almost 60,000 registered nurses (RNs) who renewed their license in 2018 reported working in direct patient care — and 25,000 said they will leave direct care in under 10 years.

Breanna Zabel, president of the Eastern Region Student Nurse’s Association, said she likes the option of the smaller campus that Watertown provides. The Watertown resident also said location was a factor in her decision, but attending the local campuses feels more like home.

Zabel is in the final semester of the two-year program and is finishing up her studies in Fort Atkinson.

“The second year, going to the Fort Atkinson campus, is a bit different. There’s new office staff, new equipment. Kind of like getting used to everything again,” she said.

Zabel said she did a lot of work to help with the decision to keep a program in Watertown.

“We weren’t sure where the program was going to go,” she said. “If there isn’t a nursing program in Watertown, then what’s going to be in Watertown?”

Zabel said she is excited for the decision and believes the two separate programs will attract different types of students.

“Maybe they are not ready to do the whole program,” she said. “But this will also attract more students, as well.”

She said Fort HealthCare also hires LPNs, so the change will be great for this community, as well.

For Fort Atkinson resident John Clark, attending the local program has many benefits. After getting a degree in economics, he decided for a career change. Now in his 30s, he said, the makeup of the smaller satellite campuses has students of all ages.

In his third semester, Clark likes the location in Fort Atkinson and the facilities. Adding the LPN program, he said, is a bit confusing. Some of his classmates have an LPN degree and are now becoming RNs.

If a student wants to get his or her LPN degree, then go on to get an RN degree, he or she has to go to the Truax campus to take a bridge course for a semester.

“There’s no disadvantage to getting an RN degree,” he said.

Part of the decision to get a two-year degree also is the pay increase that comes with being an RN.

While the new program will not start for a while in Fort Atkinson, there is a need for more nurses.

“We do hire LPNs. Most are located in the clinics. We don’t have many at the hospital,” said Lisa Rudolph, education service manager and who has a master’s in nursing and is a registered nurse at Fort HealthCare. “You’re able to do most of the same stuff.”

Rudolph said she heard through the grapevine that the change was coming for the Madison College programs.

“I would say it is a benefit,” Rudolph said. “We have quite a few LPN openings right now.”

Zabel said she is heading to Wilmington, N.C., for a possible job when she graduates in December.

“The job outlook is looking really good. People know Madison College nursing,” she said. “They know our skills, and want Madison College nurses.”

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