Accelerated nursing programs cure a lot of what's ailing the field

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This story was published in Business on Tuesday, July 17, 2001.

Accelerated nursing programs cure a lot of what's ailing the field

By Susan C . Thomson

Of The Post-Dispatch

For those changing into nursing careers, the fastest and shortest track is an accelerated program leading to a bachelor's degree in the field after a year or so of concentrated, full-time work. Summers are included.

Then, the graduates are more than welcome in a field that needs all the help it can get.

The School of Nursing at St. Louis University claims the nation's first such program, which began 30 years ago. Jerry Durham graduated in the university's third class, back in 1974. Now he's dean of the Barnes College of Nursing at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, which opened its accelerated program last year and in August will graduate its first class of 17.

All have their pick of job offers, as do those graduating from SLU. They're employable, "maybe more so than the regular students, because they have experience to build on," said Peggy Ellis, who teaches in the UMSL program.

Even now, when many college students are enjoying a breather from their studies, these nursing students are hitting the books, labs and hospital floors in high-speed pursuit of their new profession.

Will Beatty, who started with UMSL's second class in May, says he never would have gone to nursing school had he not been able to do it this way. Any other route would have been too much a "major investment of time."

A year ago, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing counted 72 of these total-immersion programs for non-nursing graduates. Eleven more are in the planning stages.

The American Hospital Association estimates that hospitals now need 126,000 nurses. It's projected that by 2020, the nation's shortage of nurses will have ballooned to 400,000.

Changes in demographics, and nursing get the blame for the shortage. According to the group, the average registered nurse is 45, only a few years short of the profession's average retirement age, in the early 50s.

Retiring nurses, meanwhile, are being replaced at ever-slowing rates. The group says nursing school enrollments have dropped 25 percent since 1994 and the number of graduates has dropped 21 percent since 1997.

With more career options open to them, women aren't going into nursing at the rate they once did. And at the same time, the long hours, the physical demands and the constraints of managed care are said to be driving many out. A recent study found that 40 percent of hospital nurses are dissatisfied with their jobs.

Yet, some on the outside who originally trained for other lines of work want in - and in the quickest possible way. As Durham knows, "People who want to change careers don't want to spend five years doing it."

Count Dawn Dennis and Laura Donahue among them. Dennis got her bachelor's degree from Tennessee State University in Nashville nine years ago. As a social worker and aerobics teacher, she grew fascinated with "the whole mind/body/spirit thing."

Donahue graduated from Washington University three years ago with a double major in economics and German. A job in auditing for a financial services company turned her off.

"I wanted to do something that was more personally satisfying, helping people, so I came to nursing school," she said.

Both Dennis and Donahue started SLU's program in May. Like many students going into nursing from other backgrounds, both lacked the full complement of prerequisites that accelerated programs require up front. These include courses like chemistry, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, psychology and statistics. Like many of their fellow students, Dennis and Donahue made up their deficiencies at community colleges.

Accelerated doesn't mean abbreviated. Both SLU and UMSL include in their programs every course and clinical experience they require of their other nursing students. The days in class and at clinical sites can be long, leaving only evenings and weekends for studying.

"The information load is overwhelming," Dennis said. "... You're accountable for the information in its entirety. It's extremely thorough."

"I've hardly gotten to see my friends this summer," lamented Rebecca Light, from UMSL's program. Like about half of her classmates, Light is a 21-year-old traditional college student who switched into the accelerated nursing program after completing all of her other degree requirements.

The other half of UMSL's students are career changers, as are most of SLU's.

Compared with the general run of nursing students, accelerated groups are older, more male, more committed and better at the books, their teachers say.

Last week, SLU's new class of 26 students practiced childbirth and newborn care on dolls and dummies of pregnant bellies. This week, the babies and bellies are real as they begin their first clinical rotation, consisting of four weeks in hospital obstetrics units.

For those entering health care from other fields, nursing school may mean getting used to not just new material, but a new way looking at the world.

Getting into "the nursing frame of mind" has been the biggest hurdle so far for Beatty, who came to nursing with a degree in exercise science and experience as an athletic trainer. Though not a total departure from his former line of work, nursing demands much more attention to patient care, he said.

Geralyn Meyer, who coordinates SLU's program, remembers a former accountant who "was used to things adding up and answers always being the same." After learning to think in a less black-and-white fashion, he made a fine nurse, she said.

Reporter Susan C. Thomson: \E-mail: [email protected] \Phone: 314-209-1315

Bottom line: Prerequisite courses must be completed before starting nursing courses which go straight though the summer-usually two terms are squeesed in. Extremely intense , which most second career students can handle do to life experience. Find the aricle title misleading, NOT curing bedside conditions.

This idea scares me. I did 35-30 hours a week for 4 years (summers off) and still didn't feel ready. After a year, no matter how intense I think I would have had a nervous breakdown on my first job. I guess it takes a special kind of person.

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