Taking nursing to the next level
Taking nursing to the next level
Taking nursing to the next level
Amy Haskins always wanted to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing, but life always seemed to get in the way of her dream.
She finished an associate’s degree, got married, had three children, and worked for more than two decades as a registered nurse. Over the years, Haskins started and stopped her pursuit of an advanced degree but never finished the job.
When her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer, however, Haskins knew she needed to complete her bachelor’s degree. She turned to the online RN-to-BSN (RN–BSN) program offered by the University of Iowa College of Nursing.
“I knew I would be the breadwinner, and I knew I would need my BSN to continue climbing the ladder,” says Haskins. “I’m so glad I did it.”
Today, Haskins is a case manager in the Intensive Care Unit at Mercy Medical Center–North in Mason City, a job for which she would not have been eligible without a BSN. She is one of a growing number of registered nurses in Iowa who have heeded a national call for a more highly educated nursing workforce.
The program is online and flexible for working nurses.
Tuition is $12,000 for the whole program. The UI is offering students admitted in 2016 or in the spring of 2017 free tuition for their first nursing course.
The minimum cumulative grade-point average for admission is 3.0.
Students can enroll in a full-time (three-semester) or part-time (five-semester) plan of study.
One community/public health practicum course and one project course have face-to-face components. The practicum usually meets close to where students live, and the leadership course often can be completed at a student’s place of employment.
The program enrolls twice a year, with a goal of 90 students per session—but there is no cap on the number of students admitted.
More students enroll directly from a two-year community college nursing program. In 2012, 39 percent of students in the RN–BSN program received an associate’s degree in the past two years. That number jumped to nearly 60 percent in 2015.
To learn more, visit the UI College of Nursing.
The UI College of Nursing is Iowa’s leader in making advanced degrees more accessible to registered nurses who, like Haskins, have families and need to keep working but still want to go back to school. The UI offers two tracks for completing a BSN: a traditional, on-campus four-year program and an online RN–BSN program that can be completed in three or five semesters.
In 2010, the Institute of Medicine’s “Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” report recommended that at least 80 percent of nurses nationwide have a bachelor’s degree by 2020. The report was written in response to the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which sparked the broadest changes to the the health care system since the 1965 creation of Medicare and Medicaid. The ACA is expected to provide insurance coverage for an additional 32 million previously uninsured Americans.
For those on the front lines of the health care system—namely more than 3 million nurses nationwide and more than 45,000 registered nurses in Iowa—the changes have meant more complex patient care.
Rita Frantz, dean of the UI College of Nursing, says she organized a coalition of nursing educators across Iowa to move forward with the recommendations in response to the IOM report. The group included leaders from community colleges, the UI, and representatives from private colleges that offer bachelor’s degrees in nursing.
“It took some time, but we eventually identified a common set of prerequisites that students must get as part of their associate’s degree program at community colleges so they can move seamlessly into any of the bachelor programs in the state,” Frantz says.
In 2010, only 26 percent of registered nurses in Iowa had a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the Iowa Nursing Board. By 2015, that number increased to 46 percent.
“We’ve made substantial strides because of a combination of forces, including nursing educators coming together,” Frantz says.
Another reason is that health care employers, both in Iowa and nationwide, have shifted their emphasis to hiring nurses with at least a BSN, especially hospitals and acute-care centers. In Iowa, some hospitals offer tuition reimbursement or work-study programs.
“Forty-seven percent of hospitals around the country require a bachelor’s degree, and 79 percent are giving preference in hiring to those with a BSN,” Frantz says.
Cheri Doggett, program advisor for the RN–BSN program at the UI, says research shows that patient outcomes improve when nurses have, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree. She says health care is changing rapidly, and nurses must be prepared to think critically and respond in new ways.
One way Doggett helps community college students prepare for a transition to the UI’s online program is to visit their campuses and host Bring Your Own Transcript, or BYOT, events. Students are invited to bring their unofficial transcript and sit down with Doggett or another representative from the UI to talk about what classes they need in order to make a smooth transition into the RN–BSN program.
“I think the students find these events very beneficial,” Doggett says. “We’re not just at a table handing out flyers; we’re actually sitting and talking with students, advising them so their transition is seamless.”
As a result, 20 percent of nurses enrolled in the RN–BSN program report having attended a BYOT event, Doggett says. “I think it’s made a real impact.”
The UI’s RN–BSN program has four faculty members across the state who serve as academic advisors to the online students. They also help place students in community-based practicums that are part of the program. For example, student projects might involve working with free clinics, public health departments, or even school districts. So far, students have conducted community-based practicums in almost every county in the state.
“Community health is a really important aspect of our program,” Doggett says. “To me, that is one of things that makes the Iowa program so special: the opportunity to have a community health practicum.”
Because the online program has existed for more than a decade, most of the kinks newer programs experience have long since been ironed out.
“We don’t have complaints from students about the program being online,” Doggett says. “We get feedback from our students that they feel connected. Our faculty is fantastic and really concerned about the students’ well-being and their education.”
Judy Swafford has been a registered nurse at UI Hospitals and Clinics for 35 years, most recently working with acute and chronic spine patients in the Orthopedic Clinic. Two years ago, she enrolled in the RN–BSN program and expects to graduate in December 2016.
Though returning to school was intimidating at first, Swafford has enjoyed the flexibility of the online program and says she felt connected to her classmates.
“It takes a certain amount of discipline, that’s for sure,” she says. “You work all day and come home and spend two or three hours reading or communicating with classmates online.”
But Swafford says she believes earning a bachelor’s degree will make her a better nurse.
“I will be wiser, maybe a better team member and more of a leader,” she says. “I have mentored nursing students through the years, and I know I will do a better job of that.”