UNM College of Nursing to Recruit More Rural Nurses to Web Program

Faculty in the UNM College of Nursing will use a $650,000 grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to recruit nurses from throughout New Mexico to advance their educations via the web and help them stick with the program until they get their degrees.


"Having to travel to Albuquerque for more education is bad for the nurses throughout the state and the facilities they work in," said Geoff Shuster, associate professor in the UNM College of Nursing. "The facilities lose the expertise of these nurses, and the nurses lose income and time with their families.


"It is important for New Mexico and the University of New Mexico to be able to offer programs that ‘educate in place,' " Shuster said.


UNM's web program offers a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN) curriculum tailored to registered nurses (RNs) who already earned their associate degrees at local community colleges. Shuster and Gloria Birkholz, another UNM College of Nursing professor, will recruit them to the "RN to BSN" program through advertising, letters, face-to-face meetings in rural communities, an 800 telephone line and a website.


UNM also offers a complete web-based Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) program that can be accelerated with courses in the RN-BSN program.


The professors will help the students stick with the program by regularly seeking feedback about what works and what doesn't, and revising the program accordingly.


The RN to BSN program focuses on critical thinking, leadership, management, community health and public policy skills that enhance a nurse's competence and are ideal to teach via the Web, Shuster said. More highly-educated nurses are needed in today's increasingly complex healthcare settings, he added.


Nurses with BSN and MSN degrees also are able to take leadership positions within their organizations, Birkholz said, and nurses with MSN degrees are able to fill the need for faculty at the community colleges that provide Associate Degree nursing education and want to increase the number of students they graduate.


A group of industry representatives studying the state's nursing shortage recently concluded that to begin to solve the shortage, New Mexico must double the number of students who graduate from the state's nursing schools each year.


Currently about 11 percent, the shortage could reach 57 percent by the year 2025 if nothing is done to address it, according to projections from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.


"We need the pipeline of basic nurses, but without the pipeline of BSN degree nurses who can then go on for MSN degrees, we won't be able to educate future New Mexico nurses," she said. "And without advanced degree nurses there will be shortages of nurses for leadership and faculty positions."


Even with the career advancement and the strong clinical care benefits a BSN education provides, Shuster said it's still not practical or advisable to expect nurses to travel and physically sit in classrooms to obtain their RN to BSN degree particularly in a large, rural state like New Mexico.


In addition to losing time at their facilities and with their families, Shuster said, some nurses who choose to come to Albuquerque may end up staying here in an urban environment and are reluctant to return to their rural roots. "The web program not only helps retain nurses in New Mexico but, more importantly, in their communities," he said.


The RN-to-BSN web program is asynchronous, meaning there is no set "class time", students log on and study when they have the time even if it's midnight on a Sunday. This model not only accommodates demanding work schedules and   family commitments, Birkholz said, but also allows students to tailor their studies to times when they perform at their best.


Birkholz and Shuster said they realize some students are still going to be intimidated by the idea of learning to navigate the class software or even using a computer. Consequently, as part of their recruitment efforts Shuster and Birkholz are planning a computer know-how "road show," holding classes throughout the state to help students  improve  word processing and software skills before they delve into their classwork.


The program also will keep a pool of laptop computers to loan to those who need them.


These recruitment innovations are the latest in a series of methods aimed at helping nurses in rural New Mexico advance their educations. Several years ago Shuster and others would drive to Gallup, Las Vegas and Farmington to offer face-to-face courses; nurses would complete the rest in Albuquerque. Interactive classes via satellite were next, however they were vulnerable to high operating costs, lapses in the technology and the inability of some students to travel to scattered satellite locations.


The latest incarnation also adds an aspect missing in early methods, said Shuster face-to-face evaluation focus groups with students that will evaluate the appeal, ease and accessibility of the classes and pinpoint areas for improvement.


"We want to identify the barriers that rural students have and try to address them," Shuster said.


While some private institutions have offered similar degrees via the Web, Shuster and Birkholz hope to attract students who might have found those programs too expensive. UNM's online web based program costs the same as the courses on-campus in Albuquerque, plus a technical fee per course.


The professors also hope that by recruiting and retaining rural New Mexico nurses in the RN-to-BSN program, they'll give them not only BSN degrees but also a renewed commitment to professional development throughout their careers.


"It opens up a whole new world," Shuster said. "They realize what kind of resources are out there."


For more information about the UNM College of Nursing, visit http://hsc.unm.edu/consg/ or call 1-800-690-0934.

Contact: Lynn Melton, 272-3322

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