Nursing education is changing as rapidly as the health care profession itself. Patients in hospitals are sicker with more complex medical conditions, and in the community, the patient population is multicultural. Four area programs have adapted to ensure a steady supply of nurses trained for today's – and tomorrow's – health care environment.
Notre Dame of Maryland University
The nursing program at Notre Dame of Maryland University is marked by a number of innovations, but one of the most visible is a new dean of nursing – Kathy Wisser, Ph.D., RN, CNE, CPHQ.
Wisser, who started in July, was the associate dean of graduate assessment and health care program development at Alvernia University in Reading, Pa.
She leads a department that has received grant money for its successful RN-to-BSN program and the Center for Caring Technology, a clinical simulation lab that opened in 2013.
The lab uses high- and low-fidelity mannequins. The Middendorf and Hearst Foundations funded two SIM Man – 3G high-fidelity mannequins that use full-scale computerized patient simulators, virtual reality or standardized patients that are extremely realistic. The Knott Foundation funded three additional high-fidelity mannequins: birthing mannequin, baby mannequin and a 5-year-old mannequin.
A grant of $341,400 from the Maryland Higher Education Commission's Nurse Support Program II will fund a dedicated retention and success specialist for adult nursing programs and expand simulation resources to nursing students from 15 partner hospitals.
Wisser notes that studies support the use of simulation in nursing education. While simulation labs don't replace clinical experience, they augment it and better prepare students for it.
The big advantage, she says, is that simulation ensures that every student gets a chance to experience the same thing.
"A student one day might see a code, but the next student might not," she says. "We can create the same experience for every student."
NDMU offers three programs in nursing that total about 600 students. Its RN to BSN program is the largest. In 2011 it established an entry-level BSN program, and the first class has just graduated.
"That's been an exciting move for us, to go into the entry-level arena," Wisser says.
The MSN program, which was established in 2007, offers two tracks, a nursing education track and a nursing administration and leadership track.
Nanyombi Lubimbi, MSN, RN, who earned her master's from NDMU in 2013, is now the advisor to the director of nursing at a Rwanda Teaching Hospital.
"This has been one of my greatest achievements thus far," she says via email. "I work for the Human Resources for Health in Rwanda through the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Nursing, Global Health Department. I was promoted to this position due to my clinical experience and educational background with an MSN in nursing administration. The knowledge and skills I gained from the NDMU graduate nursing program taught me how to become a transformational leader. With all the challenges I face as a global health nurse, I am able to overcome them by utilizing a framework of transformational leadership to impact change and improve outcomes both clinically and administratively.
"One of the most helpful experiences from the program was the Leadership and Administration in Nursing Seminar and Practicum. I did my practicum at Bayview Hospital and I was mentored by the nurse manager who was in charge of both the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) and the Burn Unit. This experience taught me how to manage by prioritizing and delegating tasks to accomplish planned goals and objectives since the manager had a heavy load and multiple responsibilities managing two units."
Stevenson's nursing programs are now part of the School of Health Professions, a new academic school that also includes the medical laboratory science programs. The move further defines the nursing program's identity, promotes health professions working together, and provides expanded space for state-of-the-art simulation labs.
"Schools in general are heading toward multidisciplinary care," says Ellen Clayton, RN, MS, department chair for nursing, adding that hospitals conduct rounds with all of those involved in a patient's care. "The interdisciplinary team is so important to patient care now."
Stevenson offers a bachelor's of science with a major in nursing, which prepares students for the nursing boards. It also offers an RN to BSN program and partners with the Community College of Baltimore County so those studying nursing there can enroll concurrently at Stevenson's to work toward their bachelor's. Stevenson's master's degree in nursing focuses on three areas: education, administration or population-based care.
Nurses with RNs from associate's degree or hospital programs who want a BSN, or a traditional college freshman who wants to major in nursing will find what they need at Hood College.
Hood had developed an RN to BSN completion program, but when the admissions office received many phone calls inquiring about a baccalaureate program, it also created a pre-licensure program. Twenty-seven students enrolled, and the first class will graduate in spring 2018.
"It really started from consumer interest," says Carol Snapp, CNM, DNSc, department chair of nursing. The move dovetails with the national push for bachelor's-prepared nurses. "Data supports that more baccalaureate-prepared nurses improves outcomes for patients," Snapp says.
About 15 RNs are enrolled in the completion program, focusing on ethics, research, evidence-based practice, leadership skills, and community health. The part-time program is designed for nurses who are working and have families.
"We work with everybody," Snapp says.
Jennifer Bennett, RN, who works as a NICU nurse and is raising a family, will graduate with her BSN this spring. A former public relations professional with a bachelor's degree, she became interested in nursing while working for Shock Trauma. She earned an associate's degree from Frederick Community College and then worked for Frederick Memorial Hospital. When the hospital offered a scholarship to earn her BSN, she chose Hood.
"In the nursing industry, you have to keep yourself educated," she says. "There's always new evidence-based practices coming out. I want to be at the top of my game – I want to be the best nurse I can."
She preferred a traditional classroom. "That knowledge base is not something you're going to get sitting in front of a computer," she says, but notes the program still offers flexibility.
"Whether it's a family emergency or you have issues with your kids, they get it," she says.
The advanced education gives her a broader perspective and helps her appreciate the bigger picture, especially when it comes to informatics. She also knows this likely won't be a terminal degree.
"When teaching us, the idea is to get us excited and motivated – this is not the last stop for us," she says.
"It's not a decision we came to lightly," says Kathleen White, Ph.D., RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, director for the program. The program emphasizes leadership, global impact, quality and safety and evidence-based interprofessional education.
White says that all of the students applying to the Hopkins program already had bachelor's degrees, and the push toward a master's puts them in line with other practitioners, such as physical therapists and pharmacists, who are all prepared at the graduate level and whose professional competencies reflect that.
"Because of the complexity of health care and sicker patients in hospitals and our colleagues in the hospital – physical therapists, pharmacists – we can't say, 'Well, we can allow nurses to be less-qualified," White says. "We've been a top school in nursing for lots of years and we want to stay that way."
The five-semester, full-time master's program is also a pre-licensure program, which prepares students for the RN exam. In addition to basic clinical courses, students take graduate-level biostatistics, health promotion, ethics and leadership courses. Concepts such as ethics, safety initiatives, cultural humility and social disparities are infused throughout the program.
"They're prepared to jump start their careers," White says. "For many, it's a second career. They've been a lab tech, researcher or teacher or lawyer, or they've always wanted to be a nurse. We have returning Peace Corps volunteers – they have wonderful global experiences. Care now happens in community-based settings, and they may make a huge impact."
She notes the program offers Spanish for health professionals. For those career-changers who may not have the necessary pre-requisites – anatomy and physiology, microbiology, nutrition, statistics and human growth and development – Hopkins offers those courses and even the labs online.
"Prospective students can take them right here," White says.
The program also offers a wealth of clinical placements at not just at Hopkins' health care settings, but also with other health care providers in the Baltimore-Washington area.
"When you think about the curriculum, we are preparing these students to work in complex environments across the continuum," White says. "That's what makes this program so interesting – it meets a lot of needs." •