Wisconsin's Nursing Alignment Idea Is Catching On

Article excerpt

Faculty and administrators from each of Wisconsin's 16 technical colleges recently implemented a collaborative curriculum development project focused on alleviating the state's nursing shortage. Beginning last fall, learners could enroll in a statewide, "one-plus-one" nursing program at any one of Wisconsin's 16 technical colleges.

Developed in collaboration with the Worldwide Instructional Design System (WIDS), a nonprofit organization that provides curriculum-design software, consulting and training services, the unique nursing program allows students to become practical nurses after one year and associate-degree nurses after two years, without overlap or repeating credits.

Already, Wisconsin's aligned nursing program is serving as a model for other states and colleges interested in doing the same.

A First for Wisconsin

The nursing alignment project is a first for Wisconsin and one of a few in the nation, according to Kay Tupala, dean of health sciences at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay. No matter where or how it is delivered--online or face-to-face--the program has the same course titles, numbers, credits, descriptions, competencies (skills) and performance standards. Yet, she says, the curriculum leaves instructors free to individualize learning activities and delivery.

"Aligned curricula makes it much easier for the schools and especially the students," says Barbara Grumet, executive director of the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC). "Clinical agencies, such as hospitals, know what the background is for each student in terms of pre-clinical knowledge and skills," says Grumet. "And students have an easier time navigating the system if they have to transfer or 'stop out' for a time."

Each of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) schools tossed out its old nursing program and adopted the new statewide curriculum. That way, all technical colleges are teaching to the same standards, and learners are achieving the same skills, or competencies, according to WIDS Consultant Terri Johnson, who facilitated the collaboration process.

Johnson worked with deans and faculty from all 16 colleges to create a program representative of the best practices in nursing.

"All the campuses had to work as a team to help increase the number of nurses and ensure we had a quality product," says Tupala. "Without a quality facilitator, we would have been spinning our wheels. Designing the program with WIDS Software puts the curriculum into an easy, organized and valuable format."

Dianne Joyce, a nursing instructor at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, agrees. "We have a remarkable product because baseline rules were established right off," she says. "We could be the beginning of something national. This is exciting and will be a good thing for Wisconsin."

Health Care Hurting for Nurses

As the second largest employer in Wisconsin, the health care industry is expected to lose a large number of nurses to retirement in coming years, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD). As a result, the need for registered nurses and licensed practical nurses is expected to grow 20.2 percent and 14.2 percent, respectively, from 1998 to 2008. The nursing deficit spurred the state legislature to urge WTCS to reduce the barriers to entry and advancement in nursing, according to Tupala. The new aligned nursing program is designed with this in mind.

Sharing Core Competencies and Increasing Opportunity

The one-plus-one nursing program requires the same core competencies (skills) to become a practical nurse as it does to become an associate-degree nurse. This allows learners to more easily transfer between programs and schools without duplicating credits.

"The program really increases career mobility," says Karen Taylor, nursing instructor at Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire. …