Ten nurses graduate from Abington's new RN to B.S. degree program

On a sunny morning in early May, 10 nurses walked in their coveted caps and gowns and received their bachelor’s degrees from Penn State Abington Chancellor Karen Wiley Sandler. Quite an accomplishment for these newly minted nurses considering the degree program at Abington campus was launched only nine short months ago, during the fall semester in 2011.

So how does one earn a bachelor of science degree in nursing in one academic year? The Penn State Abington program is open to registered nurses who previously have earned either an associate degree in nursing or a diploma in nursing. Combining the courses taken in the student’s diploma program, courses offered through Penn State’s World Campus School of Nursing and now courses at Penn State Abington, a baccalaureate degree in nursing is within reach in a more timely fashion. This is extremely important in today’s job market considering that several states have proposed legislation requiring all registered nurses to obtain their bachelor of science degree within 10 years of initial licensure. Many area hospitals also have implemented a bachelor’s degree requirement for their nursing staff.

According to Brenda Holtzer, coordinator of Penn State Abington’s RN to B.S. degree program, a baccalaureate degree is clearly becoming the minimum educational requirement.

“It’s very challenging to find a nursing position without your bachelor's degree and there are several reasons behind that,” said Holtzer. “First, all of the changes in the federal agencies scrutinizing health care right now. Second, in the past 10 years, prominent nursing researchers have examined hospital patient morbidity and mortality rates in relation to the level of educational preparedness of the nursing staff. The research shows that there’s a direct correlation between ‘failure to rescue’ and nurses’ level of education. The more highly educated nurse is able to respond more quickly in those situations and identify problems more immediately.”

Most of the nursing graduates from Penn State Abington accomplished this feat through the Aria Health School of Nursing and Penn State Abington Collaboration, a culmination of nearly 40 years of partnership. Michelle Conley, chief nursing officer for Aria Health System described this nursing collaborative as providing a “seamless academic progression to a bachelor of science degree in nursing.”

“Our program is a unique model of research based learning and enhanced clinical experience that prepares highly skilled nurses for practice in our changing health care delivery system,” said Conley. “We believe -- through our collaborative -- that we are bringing a unique educational opportunity unparalleled in the Philadelphia area. Our graduates attain a bachelor of science in nursing degree while spending over forty percent of their time in the clinical setting. This prepares them not only academically, but also experientially.”

Cyndi Notaro, of Doylestown, Pa., said earning her nursing diploma from Aria Health was the right choice for her because of its connection with Penn State. “I chose Aria specifically because it was affiliated with Penn State. I was accepted into other nursing programs but I chose Aria because I wanted to have that Penn State clout.”

Immediately after earning her nursing diploma, Notaro entered the Penn State Abington RN to B.S. degree program and was one of the program’s first graduates.

“I wanted to get my B.S. in nursing because I will be the primary wage earner for my family and, knowing that, I know that I need to have a higher level of education. At some point they are going to change the guidelines for nurses and most hospitals will mandate that new nurses will have to have their bachelor’s degree in nursing. So before that happened, I wanted to have it done now. I’m very glad that I did.”

Notaro currently works as a psychiatric nurse at Brooke Glen Behavioral Hospital, but her dream job is to become an emergency room nurse, preferably at Doylestown Hospital which is a convenient one mile walk from her home. When asked if she thought the Penn State name on her degree will help her reach her dream, Notaro emphatically replied, “I absolutely believe so or else I would not have done it.”

The future looks bright for Penn State Abington’s RN to B.S. degree students as the program continues to grow and take shape. According to Holtzer, the success of this program is due to the “flexibility of class times, Penn State’s good reputation, no time limit on previously earned credits, a great faculty, convenient location of campus and manageable class size.” Currently, nursing students can take evening classes formatted for hybrid learning (online plus classroom time) to accommodate their busy schedules. New for the fall 2012 semester, Aria Health School of Nursing recent graduates will be able to earn their bachelor of science degree in nursing by enrolling full-time for one semester at Penn State Abington.

For more information on Penn State Abington’s RN to B.S. degree program, go to www.abington.psu.edu//psasite/fs/academics/rn.html or contact Brenda Holtzer at 215-881-7398 or [email protected].