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ADN to BSN Program Prepares Nurses for the Future: RNs find more career opportunities available after obtaining a baccalaureate degree.

Posted: March 11, 2013

Lauri Bonavita

Lauri Bonavita

Lauri Bonavita began volunteering in the emergency room (ER) at the University Medical Center Brackenridge (UMCB) the first time she attended the University of Texas at Austin as a psychology major. She didn’t complete that degree program, but she did fall in love with nursing.

“An assignment in one of my classes was to volunteer four hours a week in the community,” Bonavita said. “I chose UMCB and on my first day in the ER, I got to watch the doctors, nurses and technicians working together to help very ill patients and literally save lives. By the end of that first session, I was hooked! I had found my calling.”

After enrolling in Austin Community College (ACC) and graduating two years later with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), Bonavita became licensed as a registered nurse and began working full time at UMCB. Today, she’s back at UT Austin, enrolled this time in the School of Nursing’s ADN to BSN program to complete her baccalaureate degree. Because of advancements in the health-care field, the program is drawing larger numbers of working nurses, who either need to make themselves more marketable or hope to move into leadership roles in their workplace.

Although the BSN has been around for more than a hundred years, most nurses were trained in nursing diploma programs run by hospitals, which did not confer degrees. As recently as the mid-1980s, half of the country’s registered nurses were trained in this way. In the 1950s, hospital-based schools began to close as students flocked to community colleges offering associate degrees in nursing.

Now, largely in response to studies linking better-educated nurses to better patient outcomes, professional groups and hospitals are pushing for even more education for nurses. As health care has grown more complex, hospitals have determined that they need more nurses with a minimum of the baccalaureate degree.

In October 2010, the Institute of Medicine released the report The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, which recommended an increase in the proportion of nurses with bachelor’s degrees from the then-current national average of 50 percent to 80 percent by 2020. Calling for accrediting bodies, employers, and private and public funding sources to plan to meet this goal, the report renewed attention to the importance of enhancing educational opportunities for nurses.

James McClung

James McClung, RN

James McClung, another student in the ADN to BSN program, has experienced firsthand the challenges facing today’s nurses and, like Bonavita, was eager to enroll in a BSN degree completion program.

For him, the desire to become a nurse arose soon after enlisting in the U.S. Army, where he trained to be an emergency medical technician and eventually became a licensed vocational nurse. While serving at the Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center in Germany, he helped care for soldiers from the battlefield, a great number of whom were suffering from burns and other catastrophic wounds.

“The work there was demanding, but it gave me a direction for my career,” McClung said. “I knew when I left Germany I wanted to add to my education so I could continue to work with critically ill patients.”

He, too, graduated with an ADN from ACC and was licensed as a registered nurse. Currently working at Northwest Hills Surgical Hospital, McClung plans to apply to the School of Nursing’s master’s program after receiving his BSN in December 2013.

“I like that nursing is still developing,” he said. “We’re not only involved in patient response to disease and treatment, we’re on the front lines of holistic care, of advancing public health education and knowledge.”

The UT Austin School of Nursing’s ADN to BSN program not only meets the demand for a program offering added education, it also recognizes that, like Bonavita and McClung, most of the returning students work at least part-time. For that reason, the program comprises face-to-face classes and an increasing number of online courses.

“The different teaching-learning options in this program address the fact that most of these students have already started a nursing career and have life responsibilities in addition to employment. For instance, many have work schedules that vary weekly and may have families,” said Dr. Lorraine C. Haertel, assistant professor of clinical nursing. “Offering options that best fit their lifestyle, learning style and schedule is a strong contributing factor to our goal of increasing the number of nurses who have BSN degrees. Course options include the traditional face-to-face classroom, online and hybrid courses that combine online with periodic, but not necessarily weekly, classes.”

The ADN to BSN program takes approximately 15 months to complete if students attend part-time, and 10 months if full-time. Students range from newly graduated ADN holders to nurses with more than 30 years of experience.

“It’s an unbelievable program,” said Dr. Linda Carpenter, associate professor of clinical nursing. “It’s rigorous and offers both depth and breadth. Once students graduate, they are prepared to carry out their job with greater confidence, or pursue leadership opportunities or go for an advanced degree. We are also seeing a growing interest from these students in advanced practice nursing. Completing the BSN program provides so many more options.”

Bonavita agrees. Although the program is demanding, she nevertheless finds a way to manage both working in Trauma Services as a process improvement coordinator and attending classes, confident that this is where she wants to be for the rest of her career.

“Nurses provide care not only to patients, but to families and the community at large,” Bonavita said. “My ADN gave me the technical skills to care for patients. What I’m learning in my BSN program is the more global aspect of health care. I’m finding that in addition to learning ‘how’ to do the things nurses do, I’m understanding the ‘why’ behind it. Why some treatment modalities change. Why one way is better than another. It’s exciting.”