RN-to-BSN Bridge Programs

As any nurse will tell you, bedside skills are essential to the profession. They are best honed through years of work experience and do not rely on educational attainment. Yet, whether they seek personal enrichment, a promotion or a job at a new facility, some nurses want the extra boost of a BSN degree.

One of those nurses is Veronica Colon, RN, who is enrolled in the RN-to-BSN program at the University of South Florida (USF) College of Nursing. She is on track to earn her degree in summer 2016. When Colon graduated with her associates’ degree in 1997, there were more job opportunities for nurses with two-year degrees. She was hired at Tampa General Hospital on the orthopedic floor. In 2001, she transitioned to an orthopedic research position at the Florida Orthopedic Institute in Tampa.

In 2014, Colon started working toward her bachelor’s degree, feeling burned out with research after over a decade. “This was a decision I made on my own. There’s no advancement in the position I’m in and if I want a new job I need a BSN,” she explained. Adding to the uncertainty, her current job is grant-funded. “I want to have the degree under my belt.”

Other nurses with two-year degrees face the same roadblock when trying to land jobs outside their current facilities. In the Tampa Bay area, where Colon goes to school, the Magnet effort is strong. One of the tenets of Magnet is a high percentage of BSN-prepared nursing staff. Nurses’ opportunities in those facilities can be limited based on their education.


Learning From the Laptop
RN-to-BSN programs, geared toward licensed, practicing nurses, like the one at USF, are becoming more popular. “It’s all online,” said Colon. “I don’t have to be in a classroom and can do it on my own time.”

The university selected an online format specifically for that reason. “Nurses are not all the same,” noted Sandra Czerwinski, MS, ARNP, director of the RN Completion Program at USF College of Nursing. The program is not a one-size-fits-all program, as the nurses pursue different career goals.

Even though they take classes online, the students can rely on the wider university resources, like the library, writing center and student support services. Nurses leave the program as stronger writers, learning how to get their point across in academic papers. For those who wish to continue their educational journey, writing and critical-thinking skills will come in handy. “It [the RN-to-BSN program] presents an opportunity for a seamless educational path to a nurse practitioner degree,” Czerwinski explained.


Preparing Contemporary Students
USF had a transitional degree program when Czerwinski started working there five years ago, but it was in need of an update. “We felt the program was not preparing students for the changing healthcare environment. The program was not contemporary enough.” To create their program, “We went all around the county to talk to people.” Current nursing students, practicing nurses, community members, and hospital representatives participated in focus groups to determine what was needed in a new educational program.

Feedback from perspective students was that they wanted choice in course selection. The new program consists of 30 credit hours, half mandated core courses and half electives chosen from three clusters – Leadership and Management, Education, and Clinical Experience. The students share their career goals and advisors match them up to the appropriate cluster. Three of the courses include service-learning practicums. Students can be placed in an organization or complete their practicum at their current employer.

From a practical standpoint, there are multiple sections of each course per semester. Course leads maintain the integrity of the course and guide the faculty. The online interface has a common template, so students easily find what they need when logging on to a new course.

Another option is a concurrent program. Students who are admitted to an associate’s degree program at Hillsborough Community College apply to USF’s BSN program in their first semester. They take two online USF nursing courses while also taking their associate’s degree courses. Once they earn their two-year degree and complete the NCLEX, they return to USF and are automatically admitted to finish the bachelor’s degree.


Quality Issues
“We tried to develop content around issues nurses face every day,” Czerwinski explained. Among those are patient safety, quality, and bedside initiatives.

Colon worked at the Tampa General Hospital’s quality department for her service-learning practicum. It was her first exposure to nursing quality as a career path and now she’s considering seeking employment in the quality or patient outcomes areas after graduation. “I’ve learned more of the business side of nursing,” she said.

Going to school as a working nurse has its benefits for Colon. This semester, she’s taking an evidence-based practice course. “The job I’m in has helped me in the course,” as collecting data is a large part of her responsibilities at Florida Orthopedic Institute. “It’s good to put into practice.”

Nursing students in the program have told Czerwinski, “The associate degree programs teach us skills; the university programs teach us how to think.” BSN students learn critical-thinking skills, research skills and evidence-based practice skills. When they leave the program, they have a greater understanding of quality at the bedside.

Czerwinski remarked that research continually supports that patient care outcomes improve when nursing care is provided by BSN-trained nurses. Fewer urinary tract infections, fewer incidences of pneumonia, less skin breakdown, and shorter hospitalizations are among the benefits.

“We ask nurses to think about their values,” noted Czerwinski. “What is their personal philosophy of nursing?” They look at their answers and see if they need to adjust how they deliver care. They learn to go the extra mile to give patients what they need. “It opens nurses’ eyes to what is happening in healthcare and how they can help.”


Risk and Reward
Going through an RN-to-BSN program is no easy feat. For Colon, the most challenging part was getting back into the academic mind-set. “It’s harder for me to learn then it was 15 years ago,” she admitted. At times, it can be difficult to juggle work and assignments. Colon decided to cut back on her hours to accommodate her school work, a temporarily tough decision that other returning students may have to make so they can focus on their classes.

She cautions other nurses considering entering a bridge program that they can’t just muddle through their school work. “You need to make time for it. You have to be dedicated and want to do it.”

At the same time, Colon supports her fellow associate’s degree nurses looking to make the leap to a bachelor’s degree. She encourages anyone who’s on the fence to take the leap and enroll as the benefits, both professional and intellectual, are worth it. “It increased my confidence. I learned what I’m capable of.”


Danielle Bullen is on staff at¬†ADVANCE. Contact¬†[email protected]

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