Nurses head back to school

(PhillyBurbs.com) Robotic surgery, genetic drugs, organ transplants. The more high-tech the field of medicine becomes, the more the need for high-tech TLC. To meet this need, area schools of nursing are now offering programs to help working registered nurses obtain a bachelor of science degree.

Our Lady of Lourdes School of Nursing in Camden recently formed a partnership with Immaculata University in Pennsylvania to offer nurses in South Jersey an easy way to obtain their BSN close to home.

Rowan University also offers an RN to bachelor of science program as does Rutgers University Camden.

At Burlington County College, nursing students graduate with an associate’s degree and then are qualified to take the exam to become licensed as RNs. If they want to get a bachelor of science degree in nursing, the county college has guaranteed admission agreements with several area colleges and universities.

“Because our college is National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission accredited, students have access to many colleges that offer an RN-BSN completion program,” said college spokeswoman Margo Harvey.

Virtua Health System, which employs 3,340 registered nurses in its numerous locations throughout South Jersey, has formed a partnership with Drexel University to offer bachelor’s degree programs at Virtua’s training site in Mount Laurel.

AnneMarie Palatnik, Virtua director of clinical learning, said the partnership that Virtua has with Drexel allows students the flexibility to learn online or in the classroom.

Tracy Carlino, Virtua vice president for patient care, said a hospital doesn’t just take a nurse’s credentials into mind when it makes a hiring decision.

“We look at their qualifications as whole, values, experience, not just degrees,” she said. “However, we are looking at that criteria seriously.” With only a 3 percent turnover rate, there aren’t many openings at Virtua, which allows the hospital to hire candidates with the best combination of experience and education.

While Virtua doesn’t have many openings, nursing has become a fast-growing profession and there are plenty of openings throughout the country as older nurses begin to retire, added Palatnik.

Most staff nurses hired by hospitals work 12-hour days three days a week, she said. They can use other time off during the week to advance their education, either online or in classrooms. And many hospitals offer tuition assistance as a benefit for their nurses.

By 2020, the Institute of Medicine, the health care arm of the National Academy of Sciences, says that 80 percent of registered nurses should have bachelor degrees.

Registered nurses in New Jersey made an average salary of $65,882 a year while those in Pennsylvania earned $62,507, the nursing magazine “Advance for Nurses” reported on its website, nursing.advanceweb.com. In a survey of the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes region, RNs without a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $58,151 compared to approximately $69,253 for those with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and $69,305 for or another field, the magazine reported.

The Immaculata program at Lourdes already has enrolled approximately 30 students in the RN to BSN program. Classes began in January. In June, the partnership will begin offering classes leading to a master’s degree in nursing, said Barbara Siebert, associate director of student affairs at the Our Lady of Lourdes School of Nursing. These classes also will be offered at the nursing school, located at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden.

Working out the details of the joint venture took a few years, Siebert said. Since Immaculata is in Pennsylvania, it had to get permission from the New Jersey Department of Education and the Board of Nursing before it could offers classes at Lourdes.

The RN to BSN program at Lourdes is offered on a part-time basis on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Each cohort of students meets for about four hours once a week. The nurses expect it to take two-and-a-half years for them to earn their bachelor’s degrees.

Roxy Jervas of Mount Laurel, a registered nurse who works at the Cooper University Hospital trauma unit in Camden and in the transport of critically ill children with an ambulance corps, is also a student.

“A lot of hospitals are going magnet status. No hospitals are hiring RNs with associate degrees,” she said. “Most of us want to get our master’s,” she added.

As a single mother, Jervas said she enjoys the camaraderie of meeting with other working nurses and learning together. Taking the courses online at home wouldn’t work with her young children, ages 3 and 5, vying for her attention. “Coming here is like my me time,” she said.

Diane Barrington of Southampton, a recovery room nurse at Lourdes, said the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that everyone have health insurance will lead to the hiring of more nurse practitioners to assist physicians with their workloads. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree is the first step many nurses take toward obtaining a master’s degree, a requirement for the nurse practitioner license, which allows nurses to work with physicians in medical practices.

At Rutgers University Camden, approximately 120 students are enrolled in the RN to BS program. The school also offers a traditional four-year bachelor’s program and a program for transfer students.

Rutgers program director Nancy Powell said its nurses in the BS program are required to take seven nursing courses.

“We’re able to take them to the next level in critical thinking,” she said.

Rutgers–Camden does not offer a master’s degree for nurses, but other Rutgers campuses do, Powell said.

Both Powell and Siebert said it’s important for nurses to keep up with their professional skills.

Dawn Specht, an assistant professor at Rowan’s Department of Nursing, said students considering a nursing career can enroll directly in a BSN program or obtain their RN from a school of nursing or community college and start working before finishing classes toward a BSN degree.

“Our mission is to educate nurses,” she said. “There are so many different ways to enter the profession… If we increase knowledge of nursing in South Jersey, ultimately we increase the knowledge and care that each one of us receive and our communities receive,” Specht said.

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