Grant Enables Penn State School of Nursing to Launch Accelerated RN-to-BS Program

August 26, 2008

The Penn State School of Nursing has received a three-year, $841,514 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to launch an Accelerated Bachelor of Science Nursing program that enables associate degree-prepared registered nurses to obtain a baccalaureate nursing degrees within a year – less than half the time it usually takes students to complete a typical RN-to-BS program.

The innovative program also gives the School an opportunity to enhance the quality of health care in Pennsylvania – especially in rural and underserved areas.

“This program will have a significant impact on nursing and the citizens of Pennsylvania by increasing the number of bachelor’s-degree-prepared nurses in the workforce,” says Dr. Paula Milone-Nuzzo, professor and dean of the Penn State School of Nursing. “We are proud to be able to use this grant to improve the quality of care provided to citizens of the Commonwealth.”

The National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice recommended in 1996 that at least two-thirds of the nursing workforce hold baccalaureate or higher nursing degrees by 2010. As of 2005, only 43 percent of the nursing workforce possessed degrees at those levels and only 16 percent of associate degree-prepared nurses were pursuing baccalaureate degrees.

“A shortage of nurses with bachelor’s degrees may be affecting quality of care and patient outcomes,” says Dr. Raymonde Brown, associate dean for undergraduate programs and outreach in the Penn State School of Nursing and principal investigator for the HRSA grant. Brown cites research that indicates hospitals with a 10 percent increase in the proportion of nurses holding a baccalaureate degree decreased the risk of patient death and failure to rescue by 5 percent.

“Bachelor’s-prepared nurses historically demonstrate stronger leadership, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills and are better prepared to assume management roles in providing patient care,” she says. “The accelerated baccalaureate program gives those who were considering an RN-to-BS program the opportunity to complete their degree more quickly and play an even greater role in improving patient care.”

Courses will be taught in seven-week sessions in a “blended” format – a mixture of in-class, Web-enhanced and Web-delivered offerings – that enable students to complete all curriculum requirements in one calendar year. The curriculum is designed so that students only need to spend one day per week on campus, which gives those individuals who are limited by location and/or employment a greater opportunity to participate in the program. Clinical experiences with preceptors will be coordinated with partnering healthcare institutions and community services/agencies.

The School launched the accelerated RN-to-BS program at Penn State Altoona and Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus on July 1 – campuses selected because they are located in rural counties that border other rural and/or underserved counties, and because both currently offer Penn State nursing programs. Dr. Suzanne Kuhn and Melissa Miner – coordinators of the nursing programs at Penn State Altoona and Penn State Fayette, respectively – have played and will continue to play key roles in implementing the accelerated program on their campuses.

Ten students who were interested in the Penn State RN-to-BS program or were already taking courses were the first ones chosen to participate in the first year of the accelerated program. Funding provided in Year 2 will allow the School to enroll an additional 20 students in the accelerated RN-to-BS program at the same campuses and gather data to assess and refine the program. By the end of Year 3, the School hopes to have graduated 100 students from the accelerated program and expanded it to any Penn State campus currently offering associate and RN-to-BS nursing programs that is interested in offering the program.

“Ultimately, we feel that the grant will enable us establish a model program that can be easily implemented by other nursing schools throughout the country and improves health care by providing more bachelor’s-degree-prepared nurses,” Brown says.

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Editors: For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at (814) 865-3831 or healthhd@psu.edu.