ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – The University of Texas-Arlington hit a record-high enrollment this semester with 33,806 students — a 35 percent spike. A large number includes those studying in the College of Nursing. Its enrollment has nearly quadrupled over the last four years, with 7,995 signed up for Spring 2013.

They’re the men and women with a healing touch.

“There’s not any other profession in this world that allows you to touch lives in so many ways,” said Jakki Oppollo. She’s a nurse who works at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and recently finished school at UTA. Years ago, after becoming a registered nurse, Oppollo said that she loved her job, but then wanted to take it to the next level. “Because we’re taking care of very complex patients in very fast-paced environments, high technology,” she recalled. “And so, I went back to UTA to get management and research and leadership skills.”

A growing number of nurses are doing what Oppollo did.

According to college administrators, more employers are hiring people with advanced degrees.

College of Nursing dean Elizabeth Poster said that’s one reason nearly 70 percent of students are taking virtual nursing classes. “It’s very hard for a working nurse to drive somewhere and leave work, and then they have their families,” she explained. “And this, they do online, anytime, anyplace.”

On campus, learning how to treat a patient is more realistic than ever, with life-like mannequins that can talk. Baby mannequins can cry. Dean Poster remembers a time when hands-on training was very different. “We didn’t have the technology,” she recalled. “We used oranges. We used whatever we could use to mimic and to practice injections to mimic human skin.”

Actors pose as patients, too, in what becomes a lesson no mannequin could help with: human interaction.

Oppollo’s love of nursing pushed her to continue with college, and ultimately earn her Ph.D. She said that her years spent at UTA helped build her confidence — as not only a nurse, but a caretaker who simply wants to help people of all ages. “I always wanted to learn more and figure out, you know, what else can I do to make things better? Not only for myself personally, but ultimately for the patient.”

According to school administrators, more than 90 percent of its nursing graduates pass their state licensing exams on their first try.

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