More students in Athens State's new program for nursing bachelor's degrees

Oct. 28—Amberly Taylor fell in love with caring for others as a child, and it led to her becoming a nurse and the first person in her family to attend college.

"I like taking care of people and making a difference," said Taylor, 28. "I would help my mom take care of my dad. He had a lot of medical problems. ... I think that's what inspired me to become a nurse."

Taylor, who lives in Decatur, graduated from Drake State Community and Technical College in December 2021 and became a registered nurse. She said she wanted to further her career, so she joined Athens State University's new nursing program in January.

Dr. Mark Reynolds, assistant professor of nursing at ASU, said the nursing program began in the fall of 2021 with three students. A year later, 20 students, including Taylor, are enrolled for Athens State's fall semester to obtain Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees. He said that's an expected number that ASU is pleased with.

"As more nurses learn about our program and the need for BSN-prepared RNs continues to rise, this number will grow," he said.

Reynolds said the goal for fall 2023 is 50 students.

"The Bachelor of Science in Nursing program is an RN to BSN bridge program allowing Associate of Science degree (ADN) nurses to transition to baccalaureate-prepared nurses," he said.

Reynolds said an RN with an associate's degree has the necessary qualifications for an occupation that is in demand, but the bachelor's degree provides more opportunities.

"The health care workforce, itself, is experiencing a vast shortage of RNs across the nation and that shortage will continue to loom as the population ages," he said. "Once an RN has completed their BSN, they have expanded and advanced opportunities to move into different areas of the nursing workforce. These opportunities may include coordinating care for more complex patients and leadership and management positions."

Examples of these positions, Reynolds said, include case manager, nurse manager, public health nurse, nurse educator and informatics nursing positions.

Honor Ingels, Alabama Board of Nursing chief communications officer, said the pandemic aggravated the national nursing shortage by impeding instruction and the ability of students to complete the credentialing process.

"It affected the amount of in-person clinical instruction students were able to get," Ingels said. "There has been a decline in the last couple years in their national license or exam scores."

Path to advanced practice

Taylor started working as an emergency room nurse at Huntsville Hospital in January. She entered Athens State's program because she wanted to further her nursing education.

"It's the next step for earning my master's degree in nursing because after I graduate with my BSN at Athens State, I plan to go to school to become a family nurse practitioner," she said.

In addition to wanting to purse graduate studies like Taylor, an RN might want to obtain a BSN to improve skills and abilities, increase compensation, expand career opportunities and become more prepared to provide quality patient care, Reynolds said.

Ingels said many nurses will pursue a BSN to further their theoretical knowledge. He said it is also the gateway to advanced practice. That, Ingels said, would include nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists.

Amanda Scott, 49, of Madison, said she always wanted to go into a medical field, but she turned toward nursing when her husband was diagnosed with esophageal cancer two years into their marriage.

"Then he was diagnosed a second time and I thought, I don't even have an education. If something happens to him, I need to be able to take care of him. And if something else worse happens to him, I need to be able to support myself," Scott said.

Scott graduated as a registered nurse from Calhoun Community College in December 2021. She said she joined ASU's program in August to acquire more than the minimum skills.

"I just want to become a good, competent nurse," she said. "I've waited a long time to go back to school and graduate from college. I just want my four-year degree."

Scott said she has wanted to be a nurse since she was a little girl.

"Taking care of my Barbies and teddy bears, I always loved putting Band-Aids on them when they had boo-boos and stuff," she said.

Scott is surrounded by nurses in her life. She said both of her daughters, her aunt and son-in-law are all nurses. Scott said her son was previously a paramedic as well. — Challenging field

Scott said she will graduate from Athens State in December 2023. She has worked in medical-surgical nursing at Madison Hospital since January. Scott said she is proud of herself because nursing school was extremely difficult.

"I don't think you really realize how hard it was until you've gone completely through it, and you look back and say, oh my goodness, look what I was able to accomplish," she said.

Although the Athens State nursing students complete a direct practice experience similar to clinicals during two semesters, including their last of the program, all of the classes are online, Taylor said.

"It works better for me with my work schedule and family to have it online," she said.

Scott said she became used to online courses during the pandemic, so it is not a problem for her either.

Reynolds said the Athens State program involves 34 credit hours and can be completed in as little as 15 months. He said nurses can be admitted to the program at almost any time because it has multiple admission cycles per year. Reynolds said there are several reasons Athens State started the program.

"To help meet the needs of the health care community by having more BSN-prepared nurses in the local and regional workforce," he said. "To further support quality care and positive health outcomes for the consumers of health."

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