At Boston College, an Accelerated Path to Advanced Degrees in Nursing

    • February 24, 2011

“We tell them it’s ‘boot camp for nurses.’ We say it lovingly, but we’re only half joking.” That’s how Patricia A. Tabloski, Ph.D., G.N.P.-B.C., F.A.A.N., associate dean for graduate programs at the Boston College School of Nursing, describes the college’s 22-month master’s degree program for students with a baccalaureate degree in non-nursing fields.

Through its participation in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Careers in Nursing program (NCIN), a joint initiative with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Boston College receives funding to support $10,000 scholarships for 10 of its current nursing master’s students. An additional 14 NCIN-supported students have already graduated from Boston College, two of whom have stayed on to pursue a Ph.D.

Launched in 2008, NCIN addresses the national nursing shortage and fuels the pipeline of a diverse nursing workforce, including future nursing school faculty. Tabloski’s program at Boston College serves those objectives and more, attracting to the profession students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in nursing, many of whom might otherwise have gone into the profession that their non-nursing baccalaureate degree prepared them for. In addition, because the students eventually receive master’s degrees, they are one step closer to a Ph.D. in nursing that would prepare them to teach and engage in clinical research.

Indeed, they move toward their master’s degrees at a pace a boot-camp sergeant would likely call double-time. As Tabloski describes it, “We do in 22 months what others do in three years.” Students spend their first 11 months in the program training in the areas required for licensure, including classroom and clinical work in pediatrics, obstetrics, medical-surgical and more. In their next 11 months of study, students focus on one of the 10 advanced practice specialties the college offers.

Tabloski points out that the program attracts students who bring it diversity on all counts, not just race, ethnicity and gender. “Our students come from so many backgrounds,” she says. “We have lawyers, musicians, people with master’s degrees in other areas, and more. Some had already started careers in other fields, but found that they felt unfulfilled and wanted a more meaningful life. And, of course, being an advanced practice nurse offers that. You really have the opportunity to help people improve the quality of their lives; you can treat their pain, and cure their illnesses. We have the advantage at Boston College of getting many more applications than we can accept, so we’re able to choose students who are committed to the value of service that is integral to the College’s Jesuit tradition. Reading applicants’ goal statements is really awesome, because you come to understand what has led them to nursing, and you get a glimpse of the service they’re likely to provide.”

All of the college’s graduate students have advisors, but the students with NCIN scholarships get additional support. “We have special leadership sessions for them,” Tabloski says. “We bring in people who are leaders in the area, who may have struggled with some of the challenges our students have faced, overcome them and succeeded. We’re always looking for enrichment opportunities for the students.”

NCIN also provides grantee institutions with a leadership development toolkit that features a nursing leadership curriculum—a series of lesson plans for teachers to implement in the classroom. In 2010, NCIN created a Pre-Entry Immersion Program (PIP) designed to help institutions prepare NCIN students for the academic rigors of the accelerated program by focusing on time-management skills and self care, and by emphasizing the importance of mentoring.

A "Seamless Academic Progression"

Another “accelerating” aspect of the Boston College program is that nursing students admitted into the master’s entry program for students with non-nursing baccalaureate degrees can transition into a Ph.D. program once they’ve completed their master’s work. Those who transition without a pause between programs have a reduced course-credit requirement for their Ph.D. Tabloski notes that the approach is consistent with the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine’s Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report, which urges that “Nurses should achieve higher levels of education and training through an improved education system that promotes seamless academic progression.”

In 2010, two students from the first cohort of NCIN scholars at Boston College received their master’s degrees and entered the college’s Ph.D. program. Another student’s application is pending.

Other master’s students from that first year of the college’s participation in NCIN have moved into practice. Tabloski says she was recently in touch with one graduate who has moved back to his native Minnesota and begun practicing as a psychiatric nurse practitioner, working with homeless patients. “He’s going to be great at it,” she says. “It’s going to be a demanding job, but I know he’ll do really well.”

She has similar hopes and expectations for the rest of the graduates, too. “The real benefit here is that we’re able to bring a lot of really smart, dedicated, interested people into our profession. They’re people who didn’t start out on the traditional baccalaureate degree route for nursing. But when we cast our net widely, as the program encourages us to, we bring in a lot more people who love nursing and who want to dedicate themselves to helping others.”