Innovative Writing Program Helps Graduate Nursing Students Stay on Academic Track

Pilot program helps students master writing and research skills, and boosts confidence too.

    • February 26, 2012

In nursing school, most students expect to master the science of health—but not necessarily the art of writing.

A new program in New Jersey is changing that and, at the same time, helping nursing students succeed in school.

The two-year pilot program, an online educational tool designed to support New Jersey nursing students during their first year of graduate study, is giving graduate students the skills and confidence they need to succeed—while refining their academic prose.

Run by the Nursing Academic Resource Center (ARC) of New Jersey and coordinated by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Jersey Nursing Initiative (NJNI), the program strengthens students’ writing skills to prepare them for the rigorous research they will undertake while seeking advanced degrees. The goal of the program is to remove barriers to degree completion. It is sponsored by an RWJF and Northwest Health Foundation Partners Investing in Nursing’s Future (PIN) grant in collaboration with seven local funders.

According to the ARC, scholarly writing is a perceived barrier to nursing students pursuing their master’s or doctoral studies. The program aims to help graduate nursing students overcome their writing fears and succeed in their studies. It is in keeping with a report released in 2010 by the Institute of Medicine that calls for more nurses with advanced degrees. The report, called The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, recommends doubling the number of nurses with doctorate degrees by 2020.

Now in its second year, the ARC program is reaching nearly half of all graduate nursing students in the Garden State, or more than 1,000 students since the fall of 2010. It operates in 13 colleges and universities and now serves graduate students in both masters and doctoral programs.

“We are delighted with the success of the Academic Resource Center and are thrilled to be a part of it,” said Jonathan R. Pearson, director of The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, the lead funder of this project. “It is very exciting to see how this program has really taken off and expanded. It is very much needed and appreciated.”

In most cases, the online writing program is integrated into nursing school curricula. At the beginning of a course, students receive an initial assessment to gauge their writing strengths and to determine areas for improvement. Upon completing the test, students are provided with a personalized study plan for improving their academic writing and research skills. Students may submit paper drafts to online tutors and receive feedback from writing experts within 48 hours of submission. Faculty can track student improvement as well through the program’s “grade book,” an online resource for faculty.

The writing program provides e-texts, exercise sets, videos and podcasts for students on any given topic to ensure that students understand the lessons. At the end of the semester, students are given a post-test, which demonstrates their improvement over the course of the program.

“This is really making a difference in students’ confidence levels in writing and grammar,” said Joanne Fillweber, manager of Johnson & Johnson Corporate Contributions, a funder of the program. “Students love it because it helps them approach writing with confidence. That’s a key part of their graduate studies. Faculty have embraced it because it empowers the students to do better. It’s a tremendous resource for everyone.”

To date, the program has been used in more than 60 courses, and more than 80 faculty have been trained to use it. Faculty are adapting the program to suit their individual classroom needs, taking “ownership” of the project. The most recent program evaluation cited faculty members’ desires for increased and advanced training so students could use the program to the fullest extent possible.

The call for more support attests to the effectiveness of the program, according to NJNI. In response to the demand, NJNI will soon add enhanced faculty training sessions infused with lessons learned from the first year; faculty development meetings focusing on student usage data, survey responses, and best practices; and training sessions to teach students how to get the most out of program.

It is being implemented at the same time that NJNI is strengthening nursing across the state—from preparing the next generation of nurse faculty to promoting educational progression to supporting nurse leadership in academia, policy and beyond.

Along with The Horizon Foundation and Johnson & Johnson, matching funders for the ARC project include: The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, The F.M. Kirby Foundation, The Provident Bank Foundation, The Edward W. and Stella C. Van Houten Memorial Fund, and The Verizon Foundation of New Jersey.