University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center Rio Rancho campus. File photo.

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center Rio Rancho campus is growing its nursing and medical-assistant student cohorts, as construction of the orthopedic center of excellence nears.

Laura Burton, Health Sciences Center associate director of business operations, said the incoming Bachelor of Science in Nursing cohort at the Rio Rancho campus is 24 students, up from eight the first year, 2018. The campus hosted two cohorts of eight and two of 16 before moving up to 24 students this month.

“So they’re more quickly than planned increasing student numbers,” she said.

That first cohort of students has graduated, Burton added.

The UNM College of Nursing is planning renovations, including construction of a high-fidelity simulation lab, which has robotic mannequins that respond to students’ actions.

“So it’s a big, heavy technology load, along with resources purchasing that equipment,” Burton said.

She hopes the remodeling will finish in January. Rio Rancho nursing students have been going to Albuquerque for the high-fidelity simulation lab.

The medical-assistant program, a collaboration between UNM and Central New Mexico Community College, has 12 students in its incoming cohort, the biggest number so far, Burton said. The first cohort graduated, passed the certification exams and found jobs within a month of graduation.

The program’s lecture classes are online. Students attend skills labs in person on weekends and in the evenings.

“They’re trying to make it more accessible for people who are working, maybe trying to change careers but wanting to get into the medical field,” Burton said.

HSC Rio Rancho also houses the last three classes of special-education teacher training, which is continuing this semester. It includes student-teaching in Rio Rancho Public Schools.

“We’re trying, in the COVID world, to figure out how to do this,” Burton said.

In addition, the Health Careers Academy for high school students went forward this summer online.

For August, leaders are working on campus re-entry plans for COVID safety in academics, moving toward more hybrid online/in-person instruction.

New center for excellence

The second building next to Sandoval Regional Medical Center is officially part of the HSC Rio Rancho campus and on HSC property.

SRMC President and CEO Jamie Silva-Steele said she and others are preparing for a virtual ground-breaking celebration Aug. 17, with work scheduled to start Aug. 24. She expects the building to be operational in November 2021.

The Center for Excellence of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation will include clinical, research and teaching. Silva-Steele said the facility will allow UNM to add orthopedic surgeons, orthopedic medical residents and other learners in various areas.

She said SRMC has about 36 students working there, and she expects the second building will allow the count to reach 81. Students will come from across all disciplines, but especially rehabilitation students, medical students and undergraduate researchers, Silva-Steele said.

The five-year plan involves adding six new surgeons and other providers to address chronic pain and general orthopedic needs, eventually serving 913 patients a week.

“We’re probably, on the clinical side, quadrupling the access,” Silva-Steele said.