Nurses excited about degree program

Published 8:13 am Thursday, July 12, 2012

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Future nurses were busy analyzing hypothetical patients at Riverland Community College Wednesday. They discussed what procedures to perform, what information to collect, and how best to educate patients on what they’re going through. Though these second-year students won’t receive their nursing license until next spring, many are excited about the new partnership with Winona State University to offer a baccalaureate degree in nursing.

“It’ll be a way for us to advance our careers and still stay local,” said Jenny Johnson. “I know I want to do it now, because with a bachelor’s degree, you can get an administrative position, whereas with an RN you can’t get some of those advanced positions.”

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Johnson, her classmates, prospective nursing students and many area nurses are excited for the new RN-BS — or Registered Nurse to Baccalaureate of Science — Completion Program which Winona State will offer this year. Many see it as a way to get more opportunities in the medical field, while others are interested in increasing their skill set to match what employers want.

“A lot of our past graduates are just waiting for this program to start,” said Riverland nursing instructor Ellen Goslee. “A lot of our graduates work for the Mayo Clinic health care systems in various hospitals and towns and Mayo is really pushing for their nurses to have a BSN.”

The program comes after almost two years of work between Riverland and Winona State officials.

“We realized that there’s a lot more RN completion students needing more courses,” said Dr. Patricia Thompson, Winona State’s RN-BS Completion Coordinator.

Thompson said Riverland students were coming to Winona State’s Rochester campus and requesting classes in the Austin area. Riverland officials reached out to Winona after determining students wanted a BSN-like program at a local level. Thompson surveyed Austin and Albert Lea-area nurses, and found a local baccalaureate program would be in high demand.

“Students were very much interested in wanting to complete a baccalaureate degree, and they were looking for something in the Austin area,” she said. “There was a sufficient need for us to be there.”

That’s why two courses will be offered at Riverland this fall, with a statistics course for program participants in the spring. Winona State faculty will come to Austin and teach the courses, while Riverland will provide classrooms, office space and technology. With enough participants, Winona may offer the program once more, although it’s too early to tell whether the program will continue after next year.

“It’s a true collaboration,” said Danyel Helgeson, Interim Associate Dean of Allied Health. Helgeson remembers a similar partnership 15 years ago between Riverland and Winona State, but that program fizzled due to lack of participation. With the medical field booming over the past decade and advancements in patient care, Helgeson said, nurses are looking to get higher accreditation.

“The nursing profession is definitely moving toward advanced degrees,” she said. “Our philosophy of our program at the two-year level since 2007 is to prepare our nurses for further education. Since 2007, our graduates have had that instilled in them … so it’s really been a natural progression for them to want to finish their degrees.”

For many nursing students, the program will help do that.

“You can just go much farther with [a baccalaureate],” said Nicole Nelson, Riverland student.