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Nursing a degree program back to health Caldwell College pressing on after hospital affiliation breaks up

By , - Last modified: September 4, 2012 at 8:22 AM
Caldwell College President Nancy Blattner says the 6,800-square-foot expansion project of the school's nursing program is a testament of the college's ability to grow with the flow.
Caldwell College President Nancy Blattner says the 6,800-square-foot expansion project of the school's nursing program is a testament of the college's ability to grow with the flow. - ()

In each of the past three years, students at Caldwell College have returned to campus to find new or renovated facilities, which Nancy Blattner, president of the college, said "breathes energy and life" into school.

This year's project is a 6,800-square-foot reclamation of an unused former gym, turning it into a new student services center with academic offices that's aimed at better serving the school's growing nursing program.

"It's really hard to believe when you're standing in that beautiful space … to think about that was unused space, was really an eyesore," Blattner said. "To look at what it's become is hard to believe."

Blattner was talking about some of the snags Caldwell ran into in repurposing the building, but she could just as easily have been discussing the swift development of the school's nursing program, which will have offices on the second floor of the redone gym. In particular was the January 2011 decision by Hackensack UMC–Mountainside to dissolve the relationship between the two institutions; the hospital partnered with Caldwell in 2009 to get the program started, but moved to end the agreement just as the bachelor's of nursing science degree was being accredited.

"Mountainside notified Caldwell College that it had made the decision independently to return to its two-year diploma program, and would like to harmoniously dissolve the relationship no later than September of 2013," Blattner said. "That was a little bit difficult for all parties, but at the college, we were particularly concerned on the impact it would have on our students."

In a statement, Mountainside said the decision to withdraw from the BSN program was made because the diploma program "will be able to help a broader range of individuals pursue nursing careers," and believed Caldwell's baccalaureate program could become self sufficient.

"It was quite a transition," Blattner said, one that left the school with just nine months to reconfigure its accreditation plan to include a transition from a partnership to sole ownership of the program.

In response, Caldwell hired its first program director, Dr. Marycarol Rossignol, and increased its faculty to seven full-time instructors. The school also broke ground in April on the gym renovation.

Had the college decided to launch a nursing program by itself, it would've taken much longer and required many more resources, Blattner said, but the school would have likely taken on a nursing program with or without Mountainside's help.

"That's an area where students who are interested in the field know they can go out and begin working and begin serving immediately," Blattner said.

"There's a very strong alignment of this nursing program with our college's mission … we have many programs here, some developed fairly recently, that I would consider in the 'helping' field or in service areas."

The nursing program was accredited before the first class of 80 students graduated in May 2010. The class entering Caldwell's program this fall is at capacity, with 160 new students. Now that the school has cleared the hurdles of accreditation, hiring, recruitment and construction, the focus is shifting on how to best prepare for future hurdles.

The first project would be to continue to build out the science building with more lab space and new biology and chemistry facilities, but that can only happen if voters approve the state's bond issue in November.

The other consideration is developing the third nursing graduate studies program in the state, in addition to Rutgers and Seton Hall universities. Blattner said the school was approached before it was even authorized to do the BSN program about including a Master of Nursing degree program.

Susan Bakewell-Sachs, program director of the New Jersey Nursing Initiative, said there is a "bottleneck" at the BSN level, and nurses at the master's level are difficult to hire as faculty. In addition, to be a tenured member of faculty in a baccalaureate nursing program, an instructor must have a Master of Nursing, as well as a doctorate.

Bakewell-Sachs said in the last six years, at least two-thirds of the nurses licensed in New Jersey are RNs with associate degree or diploma programs, meaning "we have a lot of nurses who need to earn both degrees."

Blattner said they will explore the master's program, in addition to an online RN to BSN program, within the next three to five years. But for the moment, she said, she's thrilled to be visiting a completed student services center and having discussions with dedicated nursing students she finds to be "rejuvenating and rewarding."

E-mail to: melindac@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @mcaliendo33

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