A Fast Track to Bachelor’s Degrees in Nursing

    • August 2, 2013

A new initiative designed to ease the transition between associate and baccalaureate degree nursing programs opened its doors to its first class of students this summer.

Based at the School of Nursing at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA), the program enables students with associate degrees in nursing (ADN) to earn baccalaureate degrees in nursing (BSN) in 12 months.

Supporters of the program see this as a big improvement over the typical ADN-to-BSN transition, which can take students two years to complete and often involves redundant coursework because of inconsistent curricula across nursing schools. It will also enhance diversity in the nursing workforce and help develop more nurse leaders, supporters said.

“The idea is that students will get their BSN in a year with no repetition of courses,” said Mary Dickow, MPA, statewide director of the California Action Coalition, a group of nurse leaders and nurse champions who are working to improve health and health care in the state by transforming the nursing profession. The California Action Coalition is a part of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a nationwide campaign backed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and AARP that is working to transform health care through nursing.

The CSULA program draws from a white paper on nursing education redesign, called the California Collaborative Model for Nursing Education (CCMNE), which was released in 2008 by the California Institute for Nursing & Health Care. The model laid out in the white paper—and now adopted at CSULA—has been replicated in other settings around the state.

In 2011, Lorie Judson, PhD, RN, NP, associate director and professor at CSULA, and other officials initiated an effort to bring the CCMNE model to CSULA, submitting a proposal for support to the California Action Coalition. The proposal was approved last year, and the ADN-to-BSN program launched in June. The California Action Coalition won a two-year, $300,000 RWJF Academic Progression in Nursing grant that will provide support for the initiative in part because of the earlier work in the state of California, Dickow said.

The program’s overall goal is to create a more highly educated nursing workforce, which is needed to ensure there is an adequate supply of nurses and to improve the quality of care. Studies show that BSN-prepared nurses provide safer care, in part because of their backgrounds in pathophysiology and because of their understanding of disease processes, Judson said. Armed with this knowledge, many employers in the region are now requiring that new nurses hold bachelor’s degrees or higher, leaving ADN-prepared nurses with fewer job opportunities. This program is a lifeline that allows many to continue their nursing careers.

More highly educated nurses are also needed to meet increasing demands for highly skilled care for an increasingly complex and diverse patient population, according to a report released in 2010 by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). To address the growing demand for highly skilled and more culturally competent nursing care, the IOM Future of Nursing report recommended that 80 percent of the nation’s nurses hold bachelor’s degrees or higher by 2020. Getting a bachelor’s degree sooner rather than later is well worth it for Robyn Williams, a participant in the program. “I feel like I am getting a more thorough education and I’m solidifying knowledge, which will help make me a better nurse in the future,” she said.

Supporting Diversity and Leadership

The new ADN-to-BSN program at CSULA promises to boost the number of BSN-prepared nurses in the region and, eventually, elsewhere in the state. In addition to a more highly educated nursing workforce, it also supports other key IOM report goals: increasing the diversity of the nursing workforce and promoting nurse leadership.

Nurses with associate degrees tend to be more diverse than BSN-prepared nurses; helping them earn higher degrees will make them more attractive to employers, which will help diversify the profession. Early signs are auspicious: 28 percent of this year’s 69 scholars are Latino; 20 percent are Asian; and 10 percent are Filipino. About a quarter are non-native English speakers, and almost a fifth are male.

The program also boosts scholars’ leadership potential. In its final year, it offers a leadership course that gives students the opportunity to work with nurse managers and other high-level leaders. And it encourages students to see themselves as leaders, Dickow said, noting that some scholars are already expressing interest in pursuing graduate degrees.

The program accepts up to 10 students a year from each of eight area community colleges. About 80 new students will begin the program next year. Dickow hopes it will be replicated by other universities and community colleges in the state.

Under the program, ADN students complete a standard set of prerequisite courses at their respective community colleges and then transition to bachelors-level courses at CSULA on subjects including research, theory, case management, leadership, and community and public health. The class has also created a Facebook page, designed a group T-shirt, and is electing student representatives.

The program carries a heavy courseload, but the students are eager to advance their education and are grateful for the opportunity to do so on an accelerated schedule, Judson and Dickow said. “The students see themselves as special, and they are very thankful that they’re in the program,” Dickow said. “They see it as an incredible opportunity.”

Williams agrees: “So far, I’m enjoying the challenges of the program. It’s tough work keeping up with four classes over eight weeks, but the reward will be worth the extra effort!”