With many hospitals across the country requiring nurses to at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing, online RN-to-BSN programs are seeing a surge in enrollment, as many RNs return to college to obtain their BSNs.
In 2010, the Institute of Medicine recommended that the proportion of nurses with BSNs increase to 80% by the year 2020. According to the IOM, knowledge of basic nursing skills is no longer enough, and today’s nurses need core competencies including leadership, health policy, system improvement, research and evidence-based practice, teamwork and collaboration, technical knowledge and competency in areas such as community and public health and geriatrics.
Betty Nelson, PhD, RN, academic dean of the School of Nursing at University of Phoenix, said many of the students enrolled in her university’s online program work as full-time nurses at healthcare organizations throughout the country.
“We have RNs that are upskilling to bachelor’s degrees and nurses with bachelor’s degrees that are studying for master’s degrees or to become nurse practitioners,” Nelson said. “Our nursing students work across a variety of specialties, including pediatrics, geriatrics, oncology, surgery and family practice.”
Nelson said students in the University of Phoenix program have returned to school hoping to further their career goals as a nurse or as a leader in healthcare organizations.
“Studies have found a strong link between nurses with bachelor’s and graduate level education and improved patient outcomes,” Nelson said. “As the healthcare industry continues to evolve, nurses with advanced education can help address shortages throughout the nursing industry and serve as a solution to the physician shortage, especially in rural areas.”
Learning to be a leader
Kathy Nemanic, BSN, RN, was working in the med/surg unit of a hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area when she decided to enroll in the online RN-to-BSN program through Jacksonville (Fla.) University. A mother of two, Nemanic found she could fit the online classes around her work schedule and also go at her own pace. Her online RN-to-BSN program also was less expensive than a traditional BSN program.
As with many online RN-to-BSN programs, Nemanic was required to complete experiential learning activities in lieu of traditional clinical experiences. She chose to create a public health campaign and participate in it by volunteering at a local homeless shelter. There, Nemanic assisted with implementing a program that helped shelter residents create resumes, learn interviewing skills and how to apply for a job.
“The project improved feelings of the residents’ self-worth, which led to better self-care,” Nemanic said. “It also set them on the path to obtaining a job that could provide them with a stable income, medical benefits and money for prescriptions.”
Nemanic, who now works remotely as a nurse case manager for GENEX Services, also mastered leadership skills in the online program.
“I learned to assess and focus on the business side of nursing and not just the clinical component,” Nemanic said. “I’m now able to make decisions based on what’s best for the patient as well as the most cost-effective solution.”
Jill Price, MSN, PhD, RN, dean, RN-to-BSN online option at Chamberlain College of Nursing, said online professors in her college’s RN-to-BSN program are experienced nursing professionals with skills that are carefully matched to the courses they teach.
“Professors post personal examples that illustrate key points related to the issues being analyzed, and encourage the students, who are RNs, to share their real-life situations, too,” Price said.
“For example, we may have nurse practitioners who work in the clinical setting teaching RN students in the health assessment course, or we may have chief nursing officers of large healthcare corporations teaching in the collaborative healthcare nursing leadership course.”
Despite not being held on a college campus, students in online RN-to-BSN programs still interact with their professors and peers. Davis said a popular teaching method found in all courses is online discussion.
“Professors facilitate group interaction by posing questions that prompt students to investigate and post findings and opinions as they respond to their professors and peers,” she said. “Class assignments may include asking students to engage in an activity that is tailored specifically to them, such as conducting health assessments, or interviewing local nurse leaders on topics such as quality improvement in the clinical setting.”