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VOL. 123 | NO. 217 | Wednesday, November 5, 2008

UT Offers New Nursing Degree

By Tom Wilemon

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The University of Tennessee Health Science Center is making it easier for people to join the profession from other fields with a first-of-its-kind master’s degree program in Memphis.

The program is a smart way for somebody who becomes unemployed or just wants a change to transition into another career, said Donna Hathaway, dean of the College of Nursing at the UT Health Science Center.

“An investment in a degree in nursing is a surefire payback of your investment,” Hathaway said. “You know you can get a job. You know you can get a good-paying job.”

The university is hosting information sessions about the program Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Student-Alumni Center at 800 Madison Ave.

The accelerated program, which begins in July, takes 22 months to complete. After 16 months in the program, students are eligible to take the national licensing exam to become a registered nurse. After completing one more term, they are eligible to take the Clinical Nurse Leader certification exam.

Clinical Nurse Leaders are registered nurses with specialized skills and knowledge about safety, quality improvement and error reduction.

Margin of error

The American Association of Colleges of Nurses identified the need for this type of nurse after the Institute of Medicine issued a comprehensive report on medical errors in 1999. The report estimated that somewhere between 44,000 and 98,000 people die each year as a result of medical errors.

The association put out a call about five years ago for hospitals and colleges to establish pilot programs. Vanderbilt University and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Nashville answered the call.

“They were one of the early hosts to collect data,” Hathaway said. “They had data out that showed they were decreasing ventilator-acquired pneumonia. They were decreasing length of stay. They were reducing patient recidivism, the readmissions to the hospital and really impacting the general quality of care.”

The UT Health Science Center in Memphis did a pilot program involving nurses. Next summer, it will launch its master’s degree program for non-nurses. However, to be admitted into the program, an applicant must successfully complete eight hours of anatomy and physiology, three hours of microbiology and three hours of statistics.

“You can’t come in with a degree in art history and just go through the program,” Hathaway said. “You do need those prerequisite courses. We reduced the number of prerequisites from what is typically required for most baccalaureate programs.”

At a college near you

The university is taking applications for the program from now until Jan. 15. The prerequisite courses must be completed by July 1.

The university decreased the prerequisites because second-degree students typically have the discipline and study skills to be successful.

“Second-degree students are nothing new to nursing,” she said.

Michael Jewell is an example of a second-degree nurse. After he retired as a sheriff’s deputy, he decided to become a nurse. He already held degrees in risk management and finance from the University of Memphis.

He graduated from the UT Health Science Center College of Nursing last December before a master’s degree program was offered for non-nurses.

So far, he said he loves being a nurse.

“I had wanted to do it for a long time,” Jewell said. “When I was working patrol, after accidents we would do follow up at the hospitals to check on the victims of the accidents. I just watched the way the nurses and the doctors and the whole health team worked. I just knew that someday that’s what I wanted to do.”

Nursing school presented a set of challenges unlike many other academic disciplines, he said.

“It is a major time management education,” Jewell said. “There are so many things going on. Nursing school is not just going to school and going home. You have clinical. You have outside projects. UT requires you to do some community service along with that. Then you have your study. It is a major commitment of time, and you have to organize that time. I’ve learned since I’ve been working as an RN that all these things you learn to juggle pay off.”

Commitment matters

The university advises against working a job and going through the Master of Science in Nursing-Clinical Nurse Leader program simultaneously.

“Nursing school is full-time,” Hathaway said.

There are many career paths within the nursing profession. The purpose of the CNL nurse is to provide leadership within a clinical setting, such as a hospital. However, the role is different than a traditional nursing supervisor.

The nurses provide leadership at the point of delivery, at the patient’s bedside, Hathaway said.

“Somebody in this program is not going to be coming directly out the graduation ceremony on Saturday and taking charge of a unit on Monday,” she said. “When these individuals come out of graduation on Saturday and go into their first job the following week, they are going to have a different view of that unit. They are going to have a knowledge of systems, of organizational theory, of quality and safety management, of complex organization. They will be looking at that unit in a different way and how the activities on that unit are impacting the care that the patients are receiving.”

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