Practical Nursing students Sarah Emert, left, and Mahalia Burks practice the proper technique for applying a tourniquet prior to drawing blood from a patient in one of the new classrooms in Lincoln Hall at OTC. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

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Not much has changed on the outside of Lincoln Hall. It looks mostly the same as it did upon its 1931 dedication, when it was known as Lincoln School. 

Inside is a different story for the building’s three stories. 

New decorations feature a modern interpretation of an art deco style popular at the time of the building’s original construction. Original doors and hardware have been paired with modern lighting that can change color. 

Newly renovated spaces make room for two important expansions of the health care-related curriculum at Ozarks Technical Community College, its nursing program and a surgical technologist program. 

The expansions are part of $2.1 million in improvements OTC has made to the historic hall. About $1.5 million was funded by a grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. 

The hallway off the main lobby in newly renovated Lincoln Hall has received appropriate period touches including ceiling lights, original doors and hardware and new wall features. A modern touch has been added with additional lights that can display a variety of colors. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

New room for needed position

Imagine a parent working on a car’s engine in the garage. Their child helps, passing tools over upon request. 

Now imagine the parent is a surgeon, the engine is a living patient’s internal organs and the helpful child is trusted to keep track of hundreds of surgical instruments in various sizes and shapes, often without the help of labels. That helper must identify the instruments quickly, ensure they remain sterile and pass them over on command in an exact orientation for the surgeon’s benefit. 

That’s the job of a surgical technologist in a nutshell, said Angie Enlow, director of the surgical technologist program at OTC. And they are in demand.

“It is considered a high pressure job, because you get traumas and things that are much more stressful situations,” Enlow said. “Plus, they should be anticipating surgeons’ needs. Surgeons like their techs to know what’s going on.”

Surgery technology instructor Angie Enlow, right, teaches Ozarks Technical Community College students how to glove another person using student Kylie Henson as a model. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

The expansion helped OTC enter more students in its surgical technology program. When completed, students earn an associate’s degree and usually find work in hospital operating rooms, doctor’s offices or outpatient clinics. 

The number of training stations has doubled from two to four, Enlow said. Each station looks like an operating table, complete with lights. The college also offers a virtual training system and access to surgical robots. 

One of the key concepts taught in the program is teamwork, Enlow said. A typical surgical team has a couple of techs, an anesthesiologist and the surgeon, she said. Those team members must work like a well-oiled machine, from the time the patient is brought in all the way to the start of recovery.

The demands for the job have escalated over the past decades, Enlow said — as well as the demand for it. In order to earn their certification, students must pass a instrument identification test at 96%. That means recognizing tiny differences between tools and quickly handing them to a surgeon, reaching blindly with the tools in the correct orientations. A general instrument set can have as many as 150 items. 

The expansion allows the program to grow to about 28 students per cohort. 

“There is a huge need for technologists,” Enlow said. “Our hospitals would love our program to be two or three times that size.”

Ozarks Technical Community College Dean of Health Sciences Aaron Light stands in one of the new nursing classrooms in Lincoln Hall. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Nursing program expansion

Also in Lincoln Hall is additional space for more of the school’s nursing programs. OTC offers a practical nursing program that prepares students for employment as licensed practical nurses, and an associate of science in nursing that graduates LPNs into registered nurses.

The expansion includes six new beds — each are state of the art models, matching what will be found in clinics, said Dean of Health Sciences Aaron Light. It also includes a simulation lab featuring a mannequin equipped with features specifically designed to train nurses. 

“We wanted these to mimic what students will see when they go out for their clinical training,” Light said. 

The new space and training resources allow OTC to increase LPN cohorts to about 80 students, and RN cohorts to about 28, pending approval from the college’s accreditation sources. 

Dr. Michelle Crum demonstrates proper technique for applying a tourniquet prior to drawing blood from a patient to practical nursing students in Lincoln Hall at OTC.(Photo by Jym Wilson)

Increasing demand

Despite the increases, it’s not enough to meet demand for health care workers, Light said. The industry faces challenges that come from a growing number of Baby Boomers who need additional care, combined with an exodus from the profession escalated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

CoxHealth and Mercy Springfield Communities reported large numbers of open positions earlier this year. 

In its most recent study of workforce data, the Missouri Hospitals Association reported both turnover and vacancy of medical occupations for 2022 were slightly improved over 2021, but remain higher than pre-pandemic levels. Light pointed to data from the MHA that showed the highest vacancy rates are among LPNs. 

Additionally, he said that data gathered by the association shows that health care training agencies will all need to double their production in order to meet demand. 

“That’s pretty scary, when you look at doubling production,” Light said. 

The industry has been responding with increased training programs. Last month OTC announced a partnership with Springfield Public Schools, Missouri State University and CoxHealth to form the Alliance for Health Care Education. The new partnership will create a streamlined path that can take a student as early as middle school into a bachelor’s of science in nursing degree or other medical fields, speeding the process with dual credits. 

OTC has also partnered with CoxHealth and Mercy Hospital to form apprenticeship programs in medical fields. 

The Lincoln Hour Story Group poses in front of the school sometime in the 1930s. Principal A.R. Houston is top left, and teacher Mary Tolliver is top right. The photo is presently displayed in the buildingÕs former school gymnasium but Dean of Health Sciences, Aaron Light, plans to move photos of the school’s history into the building’s lobby. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Historic building

Opened in 1931, Lincoln Hall was known as Lincoln School and served Springfield’s Black population before integration. It was one of almost 5,000 Rosenwald Schools built between 1912 and 1937. 

It remains one of the only Rosenwald schools to still serve as a school building — one of only five, said Mark Miller, chief information officer for the college. 

While the exterior has been left alone, the interior has been remodeled to pay tribute to the art deco style popular during that era. The college also added displays of the building’s history inside. 

Light said those displays, combined with efforts to remove educational barriers, help offer an outreach to minority students — when he arrived as dean about two years ago, those walls were basically bare, he said. 

“We made sure that our artwork shows diverse populations,” Light said. “I had minority students come to me and say they felt like they didn’t belong here.” 

A plaque outside Lincoln Hall explains the building’s role in the Springfield-Greene County African American Heritage Trail and the history of the building. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Joe Hadsall

Joe Hadsall is the education reporter for the Springfield Daily Citizen. Hadsall has more than two decades of experience reporting in the Ozarks with the Joplin Globe, Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine. Contact him at (417) 837-3671 or jhadsall@sgfcitizen.org. More by Joe Hadsall