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2012 November 26 - 12:00 am

TRACKING TRENDS : Miss. Helping Nurses Manage Time, Earn Bachelor’s Degrees

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — At first, it might seem like an impossible schedule.

Hollianna Munna is enrolled at William Carey University getting her bachelor’s degree in nursing, while also working 40 to 45 hours each week as a nurse at Hattiesburg Clinic.

But thanks to William Carey’s RN (registered nurse) to BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) program, she’s on the fast-track to getting her degree in 15 months.

“It makes it easy,” said Munna of her program, before correcting herself. “Well, that’s not the right word. It makes it manageable — to do the program and work full time.”

The program, called seamless articulation, works like this: Students, who have attained their associate degree at a community college that partners with the university, can complete their bachelor’s degree within a mere 12 months.

The seamless part is that students can transfer community college credits to the university. Most of the BSN course work is completed online, with three Saturday class meetings per trimester.

William Carey, with its 65 RN-BSN students, is one of six universities to offer such a program in the state. The University of Southern Mississippi also offers an online RN-BSN and RN-MSN (master of science in nursing) that can each be completed in three semesters.

There are approximately 60 students and 10 students in each program respectively.

Munna, who received her associate degree in nursing from Jones County Junior College in 2007, said she wants the BSN because it will open more doors for her.

She enrolled in May and plans to be done by August.

Eventually she plans to get her MSN, with the possibility of becoming a nurse practitioner one day.

“It’s career advancement. There are so many directions that you can take with it. It’s another building block,” said Munna, who currently is a surgery nurse.

Munna is not alone in her desire for greater flexibility. In fact, the current medical climate demands it.

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine issued a report called “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” that recommended the proportion of nurses with baccalaureate degrees be increased to 80 percent by 2020.

“It’s something that the state is looking at very closely,” said William Carey’s dean of the school of nursing Janet Williams, who also serves as vice chairman of the state College Board Deans and Directors committee for the Schools of Nursing.

The need for greater education, the Institute of Medicine stated in a report brief, is a result of the health care profession’s shift away from treating primarily acute illnesses and injuries to treating the chronic conditions of an aging population.

Nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65 by 2030.

“The ways in which nurses were educated during the 20th century are no longer adequate for dealing with the realities of the 21st century,” the report brief said. “As patient needs and care environments have become more complex, nurses need to attain requisite competencies to deliver high-quality care.”

Brad Pickering, a patient care coordinator at Forrest General Hospital, said he’s seen an increasing complexity in the nursing profession since he received his associate’s degree from JCJC in 1993.

He’s enrolled in William Carey’s RN-BSN program to study for a Family Nurse Practitioner master’s degree at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“As the health care has specialized more, nursing has gone right with it,” said Pickering, who wants to become a nurse practitioner for the autonomy it offers. “I see the role of nurse practitioner only growing. A lot of that has to do with the demands of an aging population, and the question of whether there will be enough physicians to meet those demands.”

It will take a lot more folks like Munna and Pickering to fulfill the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations. According to 2010 statistics from the Mississippi Board of Nursing, around 55 percent of the state’s 36,000 registered nurses have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The recipe for getting to 80 percent is simple, said Katherine Nugent, USM’s dean of the school of nursing.

“We get there by having programs like the RN-BSN, the RN-MSN programs,” she said. “We make it seamless for a student to get into the program and get their degree.”

Pickering said the advent of online courses also has helped immensely. The UMMC nurse practitioner program is a hybrid online, face-to-face program.

“It’s made it a lot easier for folks like me who work,” said Pickering, who hopes to start in the fall.

Nugent said this seamless quality goes beyond just the community college-to-university transition.

USM also is part of six-school consortium for specialized advanced practice nursing.

This allows students from all the state’s public nursing programs to take specialized clinical tracks, such as Gerontological Nurse Practitioner offered by UMMC faculty, by distance learning rather than transferring programs.

“We’re sharing resources,” Nugent said.

The Institute of Medicine report also recommends doubling the number of nurses with doctorates by 2020.

Recently, both William Carey and USM announced new doctorate degrees in nursing education and nursing anesthesia respectively.

As the mandates of the Affordable Care Act unfold, the need to, in Williams’ words, “educate the educators” will only become greater.

“It allows more people to get health care. If there’s going to be greater accessibility to health care, then there’s going to be a need for more health care providers,” Nugent said.

“So we’re educating not just more nurses, but more educators to train the nurses.”

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