(This story was updated on Feb. 11 at 8:57 a.m. with a comment from Aline Holmes, a nurse who received her doctorate in nursing last year. It was updated again at 1:16 p.m. with a comment from Michael Yedidia, professor at the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy.)
Camden County College and Our Lady of Lourdes School of Nursing on Tuesday announced that graduates of their joint three-year nursing program will be able to transfer to the W. Cary Edwards School of Nursing at Thomas Edison State College and obtain a bachelor of science in nursing, or BSN degree, in four years.
The new program is in line with the national movement to encourage more nurses to obtain BSN degrees. In 2010 the Institute of Medicine recommended that, by 2020, 80 percent of the nation’s nurses have a BSN degree, up from the current level of about 50 percent.
The “Finish in Four” program will allow graduates of the nursing cooperative program offered by Camden County College and Our Lady of Lourdes School of Nursing to apply to the one-year online program at Thomas Edison State College.
This is where nursing is headed, said Filomela Marshall, dean of the W. Cary Edwards School of Nursing: “Many hospitals and health care organizations have shown an increase in hiring nurses with a BSN. This trend is driven by the research that demonstrates the educational level of professional nurses is clearly linked to better patient outcomes.”
Right now, students in the cooperative program earn their nursing diploma from Our Lady of Lourdes School of Nursing and their associate in science degree from Camden County College.
“We are very excited about the opportunity to partner with Thomas Edison,” said Lisa Easterby, dean of Our Lady of Lourdes School of Nursing. “This partnership allows our students to complete their BSN degree in one additional year — and at considerable savings in tuition.”
Easterby said that, right now, between 70 and 90 students a year complete the three-year program, and she is hoping all of them continue on to do their fourth year at Thomas Edison and get their BSN. Tuition is about $26,000 for the three-year portion of the degree and Easterby said the cost of the fourth year at Thomas Edison will vary, depending on the number of courses each student needs. But she said that, over the entire four years, the students will pay far less than a typical four-year college nursing program, and will have less debt going forward as they start their nursing career.
Changes underway in the health care system are increasing the demand for more highly educated nurses, experts said.
Joel Cantor, director of the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy, said: “Experts in this area broadly recommend that nursing move toward bachelor-degreed nurses. The care they provide has gotten more complex as medical technology has advanced. Further, financial incentives have shortened hospital length of stay and encourage care of more patients in ambulatory settings. That has meant that those in the hospital are sicker than they were years ago, putting pressure on nurses to work quickly (because of the shorter stays) and have more expertise (because of the higher levels of morbidity).”
Cantor said, however, that this view is not held by everyone in the nursing field: “Those leading the two-year associate degree programs feel that their nurses are well equipped for the current environment.”
David Knowlton, chief executive of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute said: “I am really excited to see this program. We need to be moving nurses toward the BSN, because health care is getting more complicated. This really gives people a career ladder. It is letting people who start in a diploma school go through community college and then to Thomas Edison without adding layers of additional education at a great cost.”
“This model is a perfect example of what can be accomplished when nursing education at the baccalaureate degree level collaborates with diploma/associate degree programs,” said Dr. Anne McGinley, dean of nursing, health sciences and human services at Camden County College.
Dr. Margaret Hamilton, vice president of academic affairs at Camden County College, added, “This agreement will ensure that any student wanting to complete a BSN will be able to attend nursing school in their own community at a reasonable cost and be able to complete their BSN on their own time.”
Easterby said that, while nurses get a good education in diploma and associate degree programs, the BSN provides a more extensive education, in areas such as informatics, community health and healthy policy. She said that, right now, many of her graduates work in hospitals as well as sub-acute and long-term care facilities, and in home health; a number have gone on to get their BSN.
“Research has shown there is an increase in safety and better outcomes for patients when you have nurses who are more highly educated,” Easterby said. “We have always had an excellent program, and it was very important to reach out for a partner who would help us ease that transition into the BSN and make that more doable and affordable.”
Michael Yedidia, professor at the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy, said, "We also have an acute shortage of nurse faculty, which undermines capacity to prepare a nurse workforce capable of meeting future health needs. The trend toward advanced degrees may address that shortage — the baccalaureate degree is a step toward graduate education. "
Aline Holmes, a nurse who received her doctorate in nursing last year, is senior vice president for clinical affairs at the New Jersey Hospital Association.
She said, “Hospital employers are looking to hire more baccalaureate-prepared nurses as healthcare has grown more complex. In addition, as healthcare moves out into the community, nurses are also expected to be well-prepared in areas such as community-based care and population health. They also must be able to work independently. Those are some of the factors driving the trend toward bachelor’s and graduate-level degrees in nursing.”
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