Registered Nurses across the state are being urged to go back to school

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BENNINGTON — For some, continued education is seen as a financial burden, and to others it's seen as an opportunity. That is why Southwestern Vermont Health Care is making it possible for its nurses to get additional certifications at a discounted cost.

In the early 1900s it was typical for a nurse to be sponsored by a hospital for a degree, according to chief nursing officer Carol Conroy, DNP. Over time, the programs disappeared with the development of undergraduate nursing programs, including the one at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC). As an alternative, the Helen Dixon Kunzelmann Nurse Scholar Program has awarded 15 nurses to compensate for part of the cost of tuition to further their education.

Recipients include: Jollene Mahon, RN; Haley Kenyon, LNA; Rebecca Filson, RN, MSN; Christopher Darby, RN; Drew Totten, RN, BSN; Janis Yannotti, RN; Bentley Munsell, ED Technician; Svetlana Alicea, CST; Deborah Dearstyne, RN, BSN; Kori DeLuca, RT, RN, BSN; Scott Giordano, RN; Robyn Grover, RN; Ashley Lincoln, BS; Laurie Pudvar, RN; and Nicole Siclari, RN.

"As time went on and nursing matured as a profession, the type of preparation that was necessary for nurses changed as well," Conroy said. "Many nurses started moving towards obtaining an academic degree as part of their education to nursing, starting with associate degree programs and baccalaureate degree programs. Right now there's very very few, about five or six diploma programs still in existence in the United States."

Dearstyne currently has her BSN but wants to attain a master's degree in Nursing Leadership. She plans to attend Stony Brook School of Nursing in New York through online classes. She said in an email that pursuing leadership opportunities allows her to look at the profession from a different perspective. Once she graduates, she said she's "hopeful to pursue more leadership responsibilities with the background of knowledge to support decision making."

Conroy said about 13 percent of nurses have a hospital-based diploma, according to a 2008 survey. About 36 percent of them had their associates and 50 percent had their bachelor's. She added that out of all the nurses in the state, 37 percent have their bachelor's degree with 25 percent at that level employed by SVMC.

"One of the things that we know from nursing research is that hospitals that have nurses that are baccalaureate prepared have patients with better outcomes. There's a growing body of research that shows an association between magnet hospitals and better outcomes for patients and nurses, specifically on mortality rates after surgery, better outcomes related to patients' falls, better outcomes related to mortality after trauma, better outcomes on low birth weight babies and also on patient satisfaction," Conroy said. "As the research comes in and more and more evidence is out there that patients really benefit from nurses in magnet hospitals, that's why magnet hospitals push the BSN."

Magnet hospitals are accredited by the American Nurses' Credentialing Center (ANCC). An affiliate of the American Nurses Association, ANCC sets criteria that helps to measure the strength and quality of the institution's nursing. This is also a motive for nurses to maintain the hospital's reputation through continuing education.

Studies show that nurses with a higher education deliver better patient care; their morality decreases by 4 percent, according to a report by Dr. Linda Aiken at the University of Pennsylvania. Aiken's researchers surveyed more than 22,000 registered nurses in California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Findings concluded that RNs in California have more time to spend with patients to provide quality care due to their one-to-five ratio of workload. Also, New Jersey hospitals would have 14 percent fewer patient deaths and Pennsylvania would have 11 percent fewer if their workload matched that of California hospitals.

Conroy added that "nurses are better educated, can practice at a much higher level and they practice on a level of overseeing, not just the physical care of the patient," but the four essentials of assessing, managing, delivering and communicating.

While additional funds assist in obtaining a degree, it doesn't aid in time management. Many nurses have families and other commitments that lead them to take online and weekend courses. Conroy said she allows nurses to do projects while at the hospital if necessary. She tries to help the students as much as possible.

Totten, who serves as the education and organizational development director as well as the SVHC student contract manager and American Heart Association training center director, plans to graduate in May 2017 with his master's degree. He said in an email that he might spend four to five hours each night completing assignments after returning home from his full-time job of many hats.

"I've wanted to do this for a long time. Also, it is required for my current position as Director of Education & Organizational Development. I applied a few months ago. I was thrilled when the funds were approved. Graduate school is very expensive and the award was a huge help," Totten said. "My current program directly affects my work. From curriculum development, instructional methods, management, and actual teaching all help to refine the skills I have and broaden my horizons in teaching."

So far, he's learned about how media, learning styles, curriculum development and other teaching styles can help an organization grow.

"I have been teaching adults for more than 40 years, and this new knowledge will enhance what I'm currently doing significantly," he said.

Contact Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471.


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