Baccalaureate Education

With growth of accelerated program comes refinement

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Enrollment in the accelerated program for non-nurses (APNN) continues to be a source of pride for the University of Rochester School of Nursing. Through the end of 2009 that figure was up 469 percent since the APNN was introduced in 2002.

What is driving the consistently high demand? “After 9/11, it was overwhelmingly a sense of calling,” said Rita D’Aoust, PhD, RN, ACNP, ANP-BC, CNE, co-director of the APNN. “A feeling of ‘this is what I am meant to do’ is still a huge factor. But we also see a lot of applicants now who are influenced by personal experiences with nurses when it comes to dealing with loved ones. And, of course, there are the security, portability and career mobility that come with nursing.” 

With growth of this magnitude comes the need for refinement, something that the School has been doing all along relative to the APNN. Specifically, many curricular changes have been made based on feedback from community-practice partners and student evaluations indicating a need for more intensive and focused clinical experiences to ease transition into their nursing careers.

In response, the program has expanded over the last 18 months to include a capstone clinical course with 88 additional hours of a one-on-one, precepted hands-on experience with clinically expert nurses identified by practice partners; 16 hours of simulated critical care clinical scenarios using the School’s high-fidelity computerized patient simulators; and eight hours of on-line interactive clinical case studies.

Eric HuffmanAn individual recently accepted into the School of Nursing’s accelerated program for non-nurses (APNN) asked if a current student would provide some perspective on the journey ahead and what she might experience. The following words came from Eric Huffman, a current APNN student, in response to her request.

“The program is absolutely tremendous. The talents, experiences and intellectual ability of the faculty and staff and my fellow classmates impress me every single day. The diversity is incredible as well. In my class, we have about 17 [students] from California, some born in other nations (Nigeria, Poland, England, Chechnya, Russia), Ivy League grads, a lawyer, Division I athletes, people from all over the country—and even some like me that are basically from ‘here.’

“The program is well laid out, very organized and structured. The facilities in Helen Wood Hall and at the clinical sites are top-notch and the quality of instruction and the professionals doing the teaching are everything I’d hoped for and then some. These are people that are not only good teachers, but also people I’ve come to know and admire as role models with levels of professionalism and expertise I one day hope to approach. In addition, from very personal experience, I can tell you these people care about their students. It would be easy for an academic institution to say that; I can tell you that I have experienced it. This school will go ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ to help a student in need.

“The class graduating in May 2009 that we replaced had a get-together to welcome us just before we started. One of the members of that class made a statement to me that evening that I remembered and has, in my experience, been verified. He said something to the effect of ‘Eric, every person in your class will have a point in this program where, like in a marathon, they hit the wall. It will come at different times and for different reasons, but it will come.’ I have felt that myself and I have seen evidence of it in others. In short, the program will challenge you and teach you things about yourself that maybe you didn’t realize. It will also teach you about others.

“I would not trade the time I've spent here for any other experience. I’m a better person today than I was just one year ago. I have some new friends that I expect will be life-long friends, and I am well down the road on my journey to becoming a proud, professional registered nurse. I’ve had moments of self-doubt and moments of frustration; I’ve also had moments of great pride and joy and moments of just great laughter and fun with newly made friends. All of these experiences are a part of me now. The program is superior. I made the right choice. I have learned so much, yet realize that this is the beginning of a career that will involve new experiences and continued learning as I continue on the journey.”

“We asked employers about the kind of encounters that cause new nurses to feel alarmed or unsure during that first year,” said Elaine Andolina, MS, RN, director of admissions and co-director of the APNN. “Then we created simulations of those scenarios. We also decided that it was important for students to have an end-of-life simulation that led to a natural death so that they could prepare for that experience. We have them see it all the way through to wrapping the body.”

While simulation has been a part of the accelerated program for some time, now every clinical course integrates this technology. “We’ve even added it to the psychiatry courses, where we simulate a patient going through alcohol withdrawal,” Andolina said.

Technology’s role has been expanded in other ways.  In addition to the iTouches that students use to access laboratory and drug guides, they will now have access to patients’ electronic medical records, which allows for a more complete picture when caring for their patients.

Faculty continue to look for innovative ways for accelerated students to push into the community. A health literacy initiative with the Rochester City School District is on tap for the fall. Students will also continue to work with inmates at Albion Correctional Facility.

With one-third of new students coming from a national pool and two-thirds coming from local applicants, D’Aoust and Andolina believe that the program’s strong core and year-by-year refinements are attracting students. So, too, is the reputation not only of the School but also the University of Rochester Medical Center. “The fact that we are part of an academic medical center is a draw,” said Andolina. “That translates to access to the minds and expertise of faculty, and exposure to interdisciplinary activities as well as proximity to an array of clinical facilities.”

With all of the growth and the changes, certain elements of the accelerated program remain constant. “We work under several guiding principles that serve us well,” D’Aoust said. “We teach patient-centered practice, we stress quality improvement and teamwork, we incorporate the latest technology, and we graduate nurses who can succeed as part of interdisciplinary teams. Our goal is to teach skill sets that will last and position these nurses for career longevity and opportunity.”

The question naturally arises: where does the accelerated program go from here. “I think the APNN is at a crucial point,” D’Aoust said. “It’s a robust program and will continue to do well. Though the economy may have delayed retirement for some nurses, it is coming and there will be more openings. That need for nurses isn’t going to go away and interest will remain high. I’m excited about this program’s potential.”