Online BSN Degree: The Choice for Busy Nurses

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Online BSN Degree: The Choice for Busy Nurses

At home, on your own schedule, in your pajamas

By Daria Waszak, RN, MSN, CEN, COHN-S
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Corliss Ford, RNTired of the same home health fieldwork, Corliss Ford [pictured right] returned to school for her bachelor’s degree more than 35 years after completing her first nursing program. And she did this right at home in front of her computer — that is, in the evenings, after her house filled with grandchildren finally got quiet.

“I wanted to get a better position,” 63-year-old Ford said. “I was limited to fieldwork and couldn’t get into administration.”  

She completed the online RN to BSN program at Kaplan University in January of 2010. She did this successfully even though she was working, had five daughters, 15 grandchildren, and one great grandson — and four of the grandchildren lived with her. Having the new degree coupled with her extensive clinical experience, Ford landed a job as director of Clinical Services for Interim Healthcare, a home health agency.  

“If I wasn’t online, I wouldn’t be able to attend school — period,” Ford said.  “There’s just not enough time.” After the busy day working, taking care of her family, making dinner and doing laundry, she would do her reading, online posts and papers after everyone went to bed. Unlike a traditional classroom, students can choose to do the coursework when it best suits their work and family schedule.

A Classroom in a Computer

Sheila Burke, RN“The biggest challenge is time,” said Sheila Burke, RN, MSN, MBA, Dean of Kaplan University School of Nursing [pictured right]. For this reason, Kaplan offers an online combined, accelerated BSN/MSN program in addition to the online RN to BSN program.

“With an online program, you take your classroom wherever you bring your computer,” Burke said. “If you’re in a campus program, you’re on their schedule.”  

Joan Ann Martinez, 52, [pictured below, right] of Santa Rosa really proved that to be the case.  After feeling there was something "missing in her repertoire,” she completed an online RN to BSN program through California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH). And for most of it she was thousands of miles away from campus spending time with her family in Taiwan teaching English and doing work with HIV/AIDS. She returned to her home in Northern California for the clinical portion of the program. She said she would have never had the opportunity to complete her baccalaureate degree without the ability to do it online.

"It was awesome,” Martinez said. “To live overseas and do what I wanted to do was great." Since earning her BSN just weeks ago, she has already had two job offers.

The Clinical

Joan Ann Martinez, RNAlthough Martinez had to return for her clinical, not every school handles this portion of the curriculum the same way. At both Kaplan and Jacksonville Universities, the online RN to BSN programs do not include a traditional clinical requirement as found in an ADN program.

“The term ‘clinical’ is used like the word ‘kleenex’,” said Julie Walbrun, MBA, BSN, RN, Senior Brand Manager of Health Care Program at University Alliance, which partners with Jacksonville University to put their RN to BSN program online. [She is pictured below right; peach-colored blouse.]  She explained at Jacksonville there is no clinical.

“We know you know how to take care of a patient,” Walbrun said. “Instead of clinical, there are projects with other nurses.”

The students can pick a project of their interest to complete at their place of employment or another local setting. Burke recalled one student who, after working with babies for 20 years, decided to do her project with adolescents. “Students are already trained in patient care,” Burke said, “so they do a project to bring together everything they learned.”  

Kathleen Chai, MSN, Ph.D., Associate Professor and RN to BSN Program Coordinator at CSUDH explained how their clinical curriculum works. There are four separate areas: health assessment, home health/hospice, public health, and leadership and management. [Pictured below right; black suit.]  Chai explained the health assessment, which is “not just listening to the heart and lungs,” is usually the only piece that is expected to be done on campus; it is completed over two days with a nurse practitioner.

Julie Walbrun, RNIt is clear that in a baccalaureate nursing program, certainly one that is online, there are more opportunities for writing papers. Chai explained the students in the RN to BSN program will learn to do “clear and concise writing in APA format, discussions online versus discussions in class, and use information technology as it relates to communication.”

Why a BSN Matters

The American Nurses Association (ANA) released a position statement in 2000 supporting baccalaureate education as the standard for entry into professional practice.  This is important to meet the “challenges of a complex and changing health care system.”

“The field of nursing has changed dramatically,” Burke said. “There is more information every day about diseases and treatment. There is an expectation for more education.”

Burke pointed out a 2010 study by the Institute of Medicine that recommends increasing the ratio of nurses with a baccalaureate degree from 37 percent in 2008 to 80 percent in 2020. This would help fill positions in need in today’s health system, like primary care providers, nurse researchers and nurse faculty.

“With a BSN, there are more career opportunities and most likely higher compensation,” Burke said. “It prepares you for quality care in a complex work environment.”

Kathleen Chai, RNMartinez believes that earning her BSN was worthwhile.  “I learned how to use critical thinking, find credible sources and think more thoroughly,” she said. “The (CSUDH) library website was very helpful.”

Corliss Ford has been able to improve how she does her job since earning the BSN. She teaches nurses and patients and coordinates nursing care more effectively because of the management training. Although a baccalaureate nursing degree may not be required for entry into professional practice, many hospitals require it for particular positions and for maintaining or achieving Magnet status, an award representing nursing excellence.

More Employable

“We have already seen in California local, especially metro hospitals, not hiring nurses unless they have bachelor’s degree,” Chai said. “The high percentage of nurses with ADN degrees is because there are so many community college programs in California.”

Chai noted that even nurses who are BSN-prepared may have a challenge getting hired these days. In the workplace, you want to give yourself every advantage.

La Tesha Sims, RN, BSN, RN-C, [pictured right] who has an assistant manager role in labor and delivery at Cedars-Sinai, explained the chief nursing officer is making the BSN degree a requirement for her level of position by 2012, so Sims set a goal to earn her BSN. “It was a personal thing,” Sims said. “I wanted to do it when my kids graduated from high school.”  Sims earned her BSN in 2009 from the online RN to BSN program at Western Governors University. Although she did not believe the BSN made her more effective in her role, she explained its importance in moving up in the organization.

La Tesha Sims, RN“The BSN nurses graduate with more book knowledge, whereas the associate degree nurses graduate with more bedside knowledge,” Sims said. “Later on down the road, I think it’s better to have the BSN for knowledge for your career.”  

Online Credibility

Some of the noted challenges of getting an online degree include the need for discipline and self-motivation, and not having classmates physically next to you (which may help in reminding you of upcoming project deadlines).

“When you get in a pickle, there is a lot of support — but nobody you can see,” Sims said. “There is nothing like being hands-on in a classroom.”

Although completing a degree online may not appeal to everyone, the number of students enrolled in online RN to BSN programs is on the rise. “For those who need the security and structure of being face-to-face,” Burke said, “after giving them orientation and support to pass the initial anxiety, they see it is a personal and warm environment.”

Burke explained that the quality of education from an online program is just as credible as a traditional ground campus, and that both programs have to pass the same standards and accreditation requirements. “About 10-15 years ago people were skeptical about online education. Now even traditional universities offer online education.”  

And the convenience and comfort of home never sounded better.  “I was working full-time and had three kids,” Sims said.  “I wanted to be able to go to school in my pajamas.” 

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Daria Waszak, RN, MSN, CEN, COHN-S, is a freelance writer with a variety of clinical and administrative nursing experience.

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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