Oregon Colleges Blend Nursing Criteria, Curricula to Close Gap

Article excerpt

Byline: Greg Bolt The Register-Guard

A consortium of Oregon colleges is rewriting the prescription for getting a nursing degree in hopes of making the path to one of the state's most in-demand professions a little less painful.

The Oregon Consortium for Nursing Education effort is part of the state's response to what is expected to be a critical shortage of nurses in the coming decade as large numbers of them reach retirement age. The program won't immediately address the state's most pressing need - doubling enrollment in nursing programs - but it is expected to make it easier for students to apply as well as modernize the curriculum.

The program creates a common set of admission standards and prerequisite courses as well as a standard nursing curriculum for all of the schools signed up for the OCNE effort. Eight community colleges, including Lane Community College, and four Oregon Health & Science University nursing schools are taking part in the program. Pre-nursing students at LCC will come under the new standards this fall, and the changes will be applied to the nursing program in fall 2007.

Julia Munkvold, director of the LCC nursing program, said the new approach makes it easier on students who want to pursue a nursing career. It eliminates what has been a "go-it-alone" approach among colleges that left prospective students facing a welter of admissions standards, course requirements and financial aid rules that effectively prevented them from applying at more than one school.

"Before this, every single nursing program in the state of Oregon had different pre-requisites, so a student who wanted to apply here and at Linn-Benton (Community College) had to take a whole different set of pre-requisites even to apply. That's crazy," Munkvold said. "This (change) is a huge benefit to students."

The program also for the first time unites the two-year community college nursing programs with the four-year program offered at OHSU's Portland campus and three satellite campuses. Now students who complete a two-year nursing program at a consortium school have automatic admission into OHSU's bachelor's degree program.

It is believed to be the first time a state has tried to create a uniform nursing program across different schools and campuses. Louise Shores, project director of the consortium, said the aim is twofold: to increase efficiency to ease pressure on existing nursing faculty and clinical experience providers and to bring the curriculum up to date with modern nursing demands.

She said the days are past when most nurses worked in hospitals and cared for patients until they are well enough to go home. Nurses now work in a variety of settings, spend more time on wellness and disease prevention and care for patients who often are sicker and still need care after discharge.

"We went back to the drawing board and said what do we think people's needs are going to be in 2010," she said. "We know we'll have an older population so how will that effect what the nurse needs to be able to do."

What came out is a curriculum that doesn't try to be as broad and that teaches nurses how to deal with emerging needs and keep up with rapidly changing medical technology. Because nurses will be in short supply and providers will depend more on aides and other workers for more tasks, it also teaches nurses how to better delegate.

"We can no longer cover all the content that a nurse might need in the two years of an associate's degree program or the four years of a baccalaureate program," Shores said. …