Nursing Program Aims to Improve Children’s Health

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

Carlos Ortiz’s desire to help children battle critical illnesses led him to pursue a career as a pediatric nurse practitioner.

Ortiz became the first man to graduate from The University of Texas at El Paso’s primary care pediatric nurse practitioner program in 2011. He is set to make history again when he becomes the first male from UTEP’s School of Nursing to be certified as an acute care pediatric nurse practitioner next year.The UTEP School of Nursing launched its first acute care pediatric nurse practitioner cohort this summer. The students and faculty members are, from left, C. Antonio Jesurun, M.D.; Lourdes Vargas-Cobos; Tiffany Kent; Dorothy Hall; Carlos Ortiz; Ruth Samble-Fagan; Leigh Carreon; Leslie Robbins, Ph.D.; and Kathryn Reveles, PNP-PC. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

“When I started nursing, I just knew that I wanted to help the pediatric population,” said Ortiz, who earned his bachelor’s in nursing from UTEP in 2007 and is the father of two daughters. “That’s where my heart is. I feel that’s the right path for me.”

This summer, the School of Nursing began its first acute care pediatric nurse practitioner cohort. Ortiz is one of six students receiving enhanced training to care for acutely and chronically ill children from infants to adolescents in settings such as intensive care units, emergency departments and trauma centers.

According to C. Antonio Jesurun, M.D., El Paso has a dramatic shortage of physicians and nurse practitioners, and acute care pediatric nurse practitioners may help to improve patient care in the community.

“There are plenty of sick patients that require acute care and they have to wait for it,” Jesurun said. “This will improve the delivery of care in a timely fashion.”

As the chief of neonatology at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, Jesurun supervises the hospital’s pediatric care nurses. He works with Kathryn Reveles, PNP-PC, director of the School of Nursing’s pediatric nurse practitioner concentrations, who recently invited Jesurun to UTEP’s Center for Simulation to teach her students how to do lumbar punctures.

“We want to improve their skills, so this is to train them to have those skills to provide needed acute care,” said Jesurun, who cared for newborns at University Medical Center for more than 30 years and is a professor emeritus at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

The program allows students to continue to work as pediatric registered nurses while going to school. This summer, students are working on their advanced diagnostics skills and are expected to start clinical classes in the fall. The group will take specialty classes next spring and they will start their advanced practicum next summer. They are expected to complete the program by August 2013, Reveles said.

Students will complete rotations in the emergency room at a variety of locations across Texas, and in pediatric intensive care units, pediatric floors, fast track emergency rooms, and Level II neo-natal intensive care units. 

“I'm determined that UTEP will be at the forefront of combating and solving the issue of too few pediatric providers to care for El Paso's children,” Reveles said. “I do not want interested nurses to have to travel across Texas to get the education needed to become a pediatric nurse practitioner.”

Leslie Robbins, Ph.D., interim assistant dean for graduate nursing at UTEP, said the program is expected to help enhance the level of pediatric care in the community, which has increased in demand since the opening of the El Paso’s Children’s Hospital and the expansion of pediatric services in the hospitals throughout the city.

“This will allow the patient population in El Paso to receive services here that in the past they had to travel out of town for, which is hard on families,” said Robbins, director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program. “If you have a sick child, you need your whole family around you to support you, and if you travel, you don’t have that.”

Lourdes Vargas-Cobos has been caring for children for nearly 20 years since she graduated from UTEP in 1993 with her bachelor’s in nursing and started working in the intensive care unit at Thomason Hospital (now University Medical Center).

“I always loved taking care of children,” Vargas-Cobos said. “You have to have a way of interacting with them, which is very different from adults. Adults understand and are challenged. Children are more accepting of the care that you give them. But children need to be treated as children and not as little adults, even though they understand a lot more than we think.” 

After working as a bedside nurse for most of her career, Vargas-Cobos needed a challenge. Her interest in acute care nursing was piqued while she was working with pediatric intensivists at the Children’s Hospital who introduced her to a different realm of medical care.

“We used to take care of diabetics. And when I started working with pediatric intensivists, they would have their conditions controlled within 24 hours,” Vargas-Cobos said. “It was amazing to me. When I first heard, ‘We’re going to have this kid fixed in a certain period of time,’ I thought, ‘No, you’re not.’

“It was a different frame of thought for me because I had always been trained this way, and when they came in, they did things differently,” she said. “Medicine is changing and if you don’t change with medicine, you fall behind.” 

For Vargas-Cobos, the acute care pediatric nurse practitioners program was an opportunity to advance her education and training without having to leave El Paso.

“I’m not saying that what I learned in the past wasn’t good, but what I’m learning now is so much better,” Vargas-Cobos said. “The standards are changing and it makes a difference when you’re working with people that are truly capable of taking care of that specialty.”

Ortiz said his decision to pursue his certification as an acute care pediatric nurse practitioner was a personal one because as an ICU nurse he saw how proper medical care can save children’s lives.

He currently works at El Paso Child Neurology where he said the best part of his job is “the end result.”

“The fact that you’re helping them get better - that their seizures are under control, so they’re able to go to school without worry; and the kids with ADHD that come back and their grades are better and their self esteem is increasing, and their developmental stages are going on the right path, it’s because of our help and that’s a great feeling,” Ortiz said.