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A Mississippi Business Journal Q&A

MUW uses distance education to reach out to nurses

A viable learning option for busy working registered nurses who wish to continue their education is Mississippi University for Women’s (MUW’s) RN/BSN Advanced Placement Program.

The program provides partial-distance and total-distance learning options. In the following interview, MUW’s Kathy McShane, RN/BSN program coordinator at the Tupelo campus, discusses program parameters and objectives.

Mississippi Business Journal: The need for qualified nurses is great and continuing education can be challenging for working nurses. When did MUW develop its distance learning program and why?

Kathy McShane: MUW initiated its partial distance program in 1996 because we recognized that the RN could not get off of work to attend classes in the traditional classroom setting. Employers were also telling us that it was difficult to schedule nurses off to attend classes. So, we initially started it because of the feedback we were receiving from potential students and employers. Now, more than ever, with the nursing shortage, a distance option is a must. Our students have many roles: nurse, family, etc., and many work overtime due to the nursing shortage. Coming to class is not an option but working at home on the computer is an option because they have control of the time.

MBJ: Who is the target audience for this program option?

KM: Associate degree nurses. Our catchment area prior to the distance education option was from Memphis, Tenn., to Jackson and Northwest Alabama. This semester, however, we have a student from Green Bay, Wisc., and she has been extremely successful in the program. Our target population is any associate or diploma RN who would like to upgrade to a BSN degree. They may live in any state as long as they have a computer. We charge no out-of-state tuition for the program because it is via the Internet.

MBJ: How many faculty members are associated with this program and what are their areas of expertise?

KM: We have five faculty on the Tupelo campus. All five have master’s degrees in nursing. Each faculty member on campus has been in nursing for at least 30 years. Two faculty members have over 25 years experience in nursing education, one faculty member has 20 years in nursing education while the other two have 15 years in nursing education and five years experience in hospital administration. Each faculty member has experience not only in education but clinical nursing. Our expertise areas are nursing administration, maternal child health, psychiatric nursing, community nursing, pediatrics and medical -surgical nursing.

MBJ: What did you hope to achieve with this program in terms of the curriculum objectives?

KM: Many people do not understand that there are differing degrees in nursing education. A registered nurse can have either a diploma degree, associate degree, baccalaureate degree, master’s degree or doctoral degree.

The associate degree RN is a graduate of a two-year program. These RNs are considered technical nurses and do an excellent job at the bedside. The purpose of the associate of science in nursing program is to prepare nurses to manage direct care to clients with commonly recurring illnesses in acute and long-term healthcare facilities. In relation to the university, the associate of science in nursing program defines education as the process through which the student acquires knowledge and concepts necessary for the profession of nursing. This learning process is facilitated by a personalized environment, which prepares the graduate to assume responsibilities of a registered nurse as health needs change and research findings expand.

The baccalaureate degree, a four-year program, concentrates on those same bedside nursing skills, but in addition to these, it concentrates on research and leadership and management. The graduate is able to function as a provider of care, designer/manager/coordinator of care and a member of the profession. Graduates from the baccalaureate nursing program are prepared with a liberal arts core, which contributes to the acquisition of professional knowledge. In-depth preparation in the application of critical thinking skills, communication skills, knowledge acquisition and standards of professional nursing practice enables the graduate to become a life-long learner.

With the complexity of healthcare requiring higher levels of critical thinking and decision making and the need for increased leadership and management skills, we are seeing more nurses returning to the our program. Also many of the nurses want to eventually become nurse practitioners, and they must have a BSN prior to entering the master’s program.

MBJ: How do most of the graduates of this program tend to utilize the knowledge that they gain from this program in terms of practical nursing applications?

KM: Many of our graduates go on to receive a master’s in nursing, particularly as a nurse practitioner. We have many graduates that accept promotions into a head nurse or nurse manager position after graduation.

MBJ: What feedback have you received from employers and students regarding the program?

KM: Employers are extremely satisfied with the distance portion of the program. It keeps them from having so many scheduling difficulties in their workplace. The students love the flexibility and state that this aspect allows them an opportunity to further their education, which would not otherwise be available to them.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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