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Do your homework when choosing a nursing program

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Janice Ivers of National Park College leads nursing students through an exercise.

Sorting through the many choices for nursing education in Arkansas is a time-consuming process, but it is an exercise not to be taken lightly. The right program will set a nursing student up for early success in this demanding field and open the door to a long and fulfilling career.

“Most students are interested in financial aid options, tuition, schedule, pass rates and job placement. Those are all very important, but I would also ask about culture, class size, reputation, opportunities and teaching philosophy,” said Jon Vickers, academic counselor with University of Arkansas Little Rock Department of Nursing.

“It is very helpful to do some self-reflection. What kind of student are you? What do you need from your school to be successful? What are some things that could possibly prevent you from graduating? This makes it easier to find a school that fits your individual needs.”

A foundational element to look for in a nursing school is accreditation, said Janice Ivers, MSN, RN, CNE, Dean of Nursing with National Park College.

“Participating in an accreditation process gives a program the opportunity to validate that it is committed to providing a quality nursing program,” she said. “A nationally accredited school like National Park College requires that a nursing program continually assesses and makes improvements in the educational quality of the nursing program based on data. This is done by evaluating specific standards and criteria, which include mission, faculty, students, curriculum, resources and outcomes.”

Another particularly important measurement of a school’s success is its pass rate on the NCLEX licensing exam as well as graduation and placement rates. Mark Tanner, BSN program director at UAMS College of Nursing, said it’s also a good idea to inquire about available academic help.

“UAMS is excellent in all of these areas,” he said. “We have a 95 percent pass rate for NCLEX the last reported year and we have an academic coach who helps students who may be struggling to ensure that our attrition rates stay as low as possible.”

Tanner also noted the school has invested heavily in resources to help provide the widest range of educational experiences for students.

“UAMS is the only BSN program in the state that takes students to the gross anatomy lab to learn about health assessment with cadavers,” he said. “We have implemented learning communities that help put students into peer mentoring groups to help with the social aspects of school as well as retention. We also require iPads for all of our students and have them use them in both clinical and the classroom to help them learn to embrace technology.”

“Finally, we have started an exchange program with a nursing school in Taiwan and are looking to expand that program in the next few years.”

As with all higher education, financial aid is of paramount importance to most students and their families. While all colleges and universities offer some form of general financial aid, some schools have scholarship monies and other programs earmarked specifically for nursing students. Don’t be afraid to be blunt when inquiring how your school of choice is willing to invest in your success through financial aid.

“UA-Little Rock offers over $500,000 in scholarship and sponsorship money to new nursing students every year,” Vickers said. “This year we announced a new Pathway Program, made possible by a partnership between UA-Little Rock and CHI St. Vincent which pays the tuition and fees of nursing school for 40 new students each year.

“Pathway students will work as registered nurses at CHI St. Vincent for two years after graduation. This unique program relieves a major financial burden on students, allowing UA-Little Rock to generate a larger number of qualified nurses to meet the demand in Central Arkansas.”

“At National Park College there are lots of possibilities for financial aid including the awarding of over $65,000 in nursing scholarships annually,” Ivers said. “Recently, CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs and National Park College announced a partnership where CHI SVHS will provide financial support to selected students that commit to work for CHI SVHS upon completion of the nursing program.”

Quality of the instruction is of paramount importance and students should ask about the percentage of instructors that hold Ph.D.s in their respective fields as well as what percentages of the teaching force are full time instructors at schools they are considering.

“Faculty credentials and number of full time faculty in relationship to part-time faculty are critical,” said Rebecca Burris, Ph.D., RN, professor and department chair at Arkansas Tech University. “You are looking for a school where at least one-quarter of faculty are doctorally prepared. You also want a school where a majority of the faculty are full time, not part time or adjunct. Finally, look for a wide variety of clinical sites and practice laboratories that are up-to-date.

“At Arkansas Tech we are committed to student success with over half of our full-time faculty holding either a Ph.D. or DNP and an additional four faculty members working on a doctoral degree. All of our classroom instruction and the majority of our clinical is done by full-time faculty. ATU also has a large skills lab, a state-of-the-art simulation lab and two health assessment labs.”

It’s also important to select a school that can accommodate your individual educational needs both for your initial degree as well as advanced degrees in accordance with your career goals. UAMS College of Nursing, for instance, supports a range of degree programs from BSN through Ph.D., and offers a broad range of specialties throughout.

“The master’s program has multiple specialties including Family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, among others,” said Joan Tackett, MNSc, RN, APRN, FNP-BC, MSNc clinical instructor for UAMS College of Nursing. “The curriculum prepares the student for their role as a nurse by staying up-to-date on research and evidence-based medicine and correlating that within the classroom.”

In a growing number of colleges, online learning has become an important component of the educational process.

“Our program is 100 percent online and offers in-state tuition, thereby saving students both time and money,” said Elizabeth McKinley, academic coordinator, RN-BSN program, University of Arkansas Eleanor Mann School of Nursing. “We use Quality Matters to design our online courses. This ensures that course design is of high quality and standard across our program. Online simulations and interactive activities are used to promote active learning in courses.

“In addition, the university has a dedicated academic coordinator to help each student make a plan that works for them, balancing work, life and school demands.”

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Teamwork and peer-to-peer support are high priorities at UAMS in Little Rock.

Prospective students should also ask about various available organizations and honoraries. Not only do these provide social, educational and volunteer opportunities, but more importantly they help develop leadership skills that are useful when it comes time to land that all-important first job after graduation.

“Arkansas Tech has a student nurses association (SNA) and a chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, the international honor society for nursing,” said Burris. “The SNA is very actively involved in many community service projects which utilize skills they have learned in community health and other courses. Additionally, it looks good on the graduate’s resume.”

Tammy Jones,Ph.D., RN, NE-BC, associate chief nursing officer with UAMS Integrated Clinical Enterprise, said the benefits of professional groups don’t end at graduation.

“One of the great benefits of working in an academic institution is the support for lifelong learning,” she said. “At UAMS, I have been able to develop a network of professionals and explore best practice options through attendance at external conferences such as Magnet, Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing and Southern Nursing Research Society.

“As well, I’ve participated in on-campus opportunities sponsored by UAMS like Nurse Advisory Board presentations and the annual Arkansas Nursing Research Conference. These types of development opportunities have expanded my knowledge base and enabled me to bring new ideas and information back to UAMS.”

Finally, make sure to inquire about mentoring and job shadowing opportunities. These benefit the student and beginning nurse by providing guidance and support during the critical early years.

Annette Gartman, MSN, RN, clinical Instructor with University of Central Arkansas, School of Nursing, has taken advantage of both job shadowing and mentors since high school.

“Job shadowing gave me a real-life view of the role allowing me to see daily tasks involved,” she said. “Job shadowing provided the opportunity to evaluate my fit for the role and instilled confidence in my career decisions and goals.”

“Mentoring is vital to success as a nurse. The challenges a nurse faces daily can be difficult to navigate for a new nurse. Having a mentor to guide and support your decision-making and thought processes can make the transition to practice much smoother and more successful.”

 

—By Dwain Hebda

Nursing Notes

“In my life I have learned to appreciate the differences in people I come into contact with. Different from myself and different from each other. I have found that embracing these differences brings joy to my life.”

Michelle Newton MSN, RN, incoming director
Jefferson Regional Medical Center School of Nursing
Years in Nursing: 31

 

Michelle Newton MSN, RN
 
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