Five Years of Progress

    • November 8, 2012

A professional clown. An opera singer. An aviation safety professional. A high school soccer coach.

They all have one thing in common: They are now nurses, thanks to New Careers in Nursing (NCIN), a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

At NCIN’s fifth annual summit in Washington, D.C. last month, program liaisons and alumni gathered to celebrate the program’s accomplishments and look to the future. Since 2008, NCIN has facilitated scholarships for more than 2,700 students who entered accelerated degree nursing programs after completing bachelor’s degrees in areas other than nursing and, in some cases, working in other fields. NCIN has increased enrollment and diversity at schools of nursing, and led the way in shaping accelerated nursing programs and nursing education.

“It’s remarkable how much you have all achieved over these five years,” David Krol, MD, MPH, FAAP, RWJF Human Capital Portfolio team director and senior program officer, told attendees. “You’ve helped RWJF make enormous strides toward many of our goals: educating a new generation of nurses; increasing the diversity of the nursing workforce to include more people from underrepresented groups; increasing the number of nurses who hold a BSN degree or higher, and—in the final analysis—improving the health and health care of all Americans.”

Susan B. Hassmiller, RWJF’s senior adviser for nursing, also lauded NCIN’s accomplishments and told the attendees that they are key to helping implement recommendations from the Institute of Medicine’s report on the future of nursing

Five Years of Supporting Nursing Students

In its five years, NCIN has awarded more than $27 million in grants to 119 schools of nursing in 41 states and the District of Columbia. Using those grants, schools have awarded 2,717 scholarships to second-degree students from groups underrepresented in nursing. The scholarship recipients enroll in accelerated baccalaureate and master's degree nursing programs.

NCIN requires that all grantee institutions engage in activities and offer programs to help students succeed in accelerated nursing programs: leadership development, mentoring, and a “Pre-Entry Immersion Program” (PIP) to prepare students for the rigors of an accelerated program. NCIN has developed toolkits for each of these initiatives.

The PIP teaches: study skills and test taking strategies; time management; self-care; basic nursing terminology; professional etiquette; and more. It has proved so successful that many schools now offer it to all of their accelerated degree students. At the summit, NCIN debuted an online supplement to the traditional PIP, which will allow new students to begin preparing for their courses before they arrive on campus.

Nursing school “was demanding, challenging, fun… I’m very happy I did it,” said John Pederzolli, a graduate of Kent State University, who now works as an RN. “I could tell that [NCIN] wanted me to succeed.”

Current Kent State University student Chris Fogarty agreed. “It’s not just financial [support]… they want to help you be a leader,” he said. “They want us to be a diverse workforce that can connect with patients. We’re the most trusted profession out there but… people don’t understand that we’re not just the doctor’s helpers, we are a knowledge-based profession. That’s really helped me understand that we need to push to the next level, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is there to help us have the means to move our profession forward.”

Preparing Highly Skilled Nurses

Accelerated students complete the same courses and clinical experiences as traditional nursing students, but in a shorter period of time. That means schools of nursing must make adjustments to courses and curricula.

Curriculum design was a major focus at NCIN’s summit. Carole Hruskocy, PhD, an associate professor at Regis University, guided attendees through a curriculum design framework and principles of adult learning.  Professors from New York University and the University of West Virginia described how they had restructured their programs to serve student bodies that are different from those in traditional nursing schools in terms of demographics, student experience and size.

Whatever the curriculum, research shows that accelerated students are adequately prepared for, and committed to, their role as nurses. Lisa Hennessy, PhD, MSN, RN, CRRN, clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas, El Paso, recently completed her dissertation on the attitudes and experiences of accelerated second-degree BSN nurses engaged in nursing practice beyond the new graduate phase. Accelerated students are drawn to nursing in much the same way as nurses in traditional programs, she found, and have similar experiences in practice. They also face the same challenges in the workplace, but “these students are better able to deal with challenges by virtue of their previous careers and professional maturity,” she found.

Encouraging Diversity

One of NCIN’s primary goals is to increase the diversity of the nursing profession, and it has achieved considerable success. An evaluation of NCIN by Educational Testing Service found that while nurses from minority backgrounds represent less than 11 percent of the nation’s registered nurse workforce, and men comprise less than 8 percent, 86 percent of NCIN scholars are from groups underrepresented in nursing.  Still, NCIN’s grantees are striving to do even better.

At the summit, Jacinta Gauda, chair of corporate communications for Grayling Global, discussed how to create a culture of inclusion, which she said must include a demonstrated commitment to diversity from the leaders of an organization. Leaders must be active in organizational diversity efforts, hold others accountable for meeting metrics on diversity, and ensure that internal and external communications show diversity at work, she said. Gauda also noted that it is important to ensure that new programs or policies do not cause people from underrepresented groups to feel excluded.

Leslie McKeon, PhD, CNL, NEA-BC, associate professor and assistant dean for student affairs at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, described several of that school’s successful diversity efforts, including visits to college campuses and virtual conferences with students.

Increasing diversity in nursing also means increasing the number of men in the profession. Ernest Grant, MSN, RN, director of burn outreach and prevention at the University of North Carolina Healthcare, talked about his journey as a male nurse. He described the struggles and barriers men face when they decide they want to go into nursing.  He stressed the need to teach the history of men in nursing, including the Noscomi who worked as nurses in ancient Rome, and Walt Whitman’s service as a nurse in the Civil War.

NCIN’s new recruitment toolkit was developed to help schools create a roadmap and practical strategies to recruit diverse students, as well as make organizational changes to embrace an environment of diverse learners.

Next Generation of Nurse Leaders

When they begin their studies, 94 percent of NCIN scholars indicate they plan to pursue graduate study. At a summit breakout session, academic leaders discussed ways to continue to encourage them to follow through on those plans. Financial incentives are important, the group concluded, as is exposing students to all of their options from the moment they first step on campus.

“We plant the seed the minute they walk in the door,” said Patricia Cowan, PhD, RN, associate dean for academic affairs and director of the PhD in nursing program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. She enlists doctoral students as mentors to new students in the accelerated nursing program, and talks to them early and often about the cost and benefits of advanced education.

Flexible programs—like online classes—are important for students, the group agreed.

The scholars are also showing leadership in another way: They are working to create an online “Scholar Network” for past and present NCIN scholars. A student “steering committee” met at the summit to develop a framework and vision for the community.

Blake Smith, a graduate of Nebraska Methodist College who came up with the concept, hopes the network will become a career-long support system. “We get all of this funding, all of these development skills, and [we have] no way to execute and collaborate with the others who are receiving this as well,” Smith said. “We come from such diverse backgrounds and have such unique skills to bring to the table. Why aren’t we utilizing all of our uniqueness to bring ourselves together to have one voice?”

Cattleya May, a student in Boston College’s accelerated MSN program and member of the Scholar Network steering committee, hopes the network will be a way for alumni to give back to other scholars. “[I’d like to] reach out and possibly mentor other scholars, or share what experiences [I’ve had] in this type of accelerated program.”

“I think the biggest advantage we’re going to have is unifying a diverse group of individuals with experience outside the [nursing] workforce… that can put applicable, real-life solutions to health care problems,” said Fogarty, also a member of the steering committee. “We take customer service, law, chemistry, all these different industries and say okay, those all fit somewhere in the nursing puzzle… Because at the end of the day… we can collaborate with those diverse skills and experiences to help drive the nursing profession to ultimately [improve] patient health and the health of all Americans.”

Learn more about New Careers in Nursing.