KINGSTON, R.I. -- November 10, 2003 -- When Paula Viau was helping to develop a satellite nursing education program for The Miriam Hospital, the University of Rhode Island assistant nursing professor estimated that 15 nurses would enroll.
She was way off. Sixty-eight registered nurses at The Miriam have enrolled in the special program allowing them to earn bachelors degrees in nursing from URI without having to leave the hospital.
Across the city at Rhode Island Hospital, Viaus colleague, Nursing Professor Marlene Dufault, estimated that 10 nurses there would enroll in a satellite graduate course leading to a masters degree in nursing administration.
"When 38 students walked in the door that day, I was stunned," Dufault said. "We knew it would be difficult for nurse managers to come to the Kingston Campus because they are accountable on a 24-hour basis. Offering this program at Rhode Island Hospital would be convenient, but we had no idea that we would see such an enthusiastic response."
Dayle Joseph, dean of URIs College of Nursing, said these programs are being offered at an opportune time. "The newest research recognizes that there are fewer deaths in hospitals when the nurses are prepared at the baccalaureate level," Joseph said. "We welcome this new group of students and know that they will continue to contribute to nursing practice and to the health care of Rhode Islanders."
Joseph and both professors credit officials at The Miriam and Rhode Island hospitals and Virginia Nardone, director of special programs at URIs Providence Feinstein campus, for establishing the two programs.
At Rhode Island, Jane Metzger, senior vice president and chief nursing officer, approached Joseph about an on-site masters program. At The Miriam, Rebecca Burke, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer, called Joseph last spring about offering the bachelors degree program.
"Facilitating the means and the space for continuous education and professional advancement is part of our commitment to enhance the work environment to support nursing practice," Burke said. "Our staff nurses were telling us they wanted to return to school, but I had no idea how many were interested."
The Miriam is one of only four hospitals in New England that has Magnet status for excellence in nursing services. That designation, bestowed by the American Nurses Association, requires hospitals to provide an atmosphere for nursing advancement. "Because of Rebecca, The Miriam makes excellence in nursing a top priority," Viau said of the URI nursing graduate who was named last springs alumna of the year.
The hospital committed to paying for the courses in advance, while students pick up the tab for books and supplies. The students will be taking six credits per semester and completing general education requirements in the summer so that they can graduate in the fall of 2005.
Because many of the registered nurses have their associates degrees from the Community College of Rhode Island or a diploma from a hospital nursing school, most come to the program with about 60 credits. In addition, they are awarded 30 credits for professional practice. The remaining 30 credits toward the bachelors degree are earned in upper-level nursing courses, pharmacology, chemistry and general education.
"We have nurses in this program with professional experience ranging from 30 years to 6 months," Viau said. "They are incredibly committed and juggle their work schedules, school and family lives to make this work."
But why offer a bachelors degree to someone with decades of experience?
"It is based on The Miriams motive to stimulate career advancement," Viau said. "We are developing communication skills and a focus on research-based practice. The minimum requirement to become a nurse manager is a bachelors degree."
A boost for nurse managers at Rhode Island Hospital
The masters program at Rhode Island Hospital is focused on nurse managers who want to strengthen their management and nursing skills, Dufault said. The program combines a combination of nursing and management courses. Mary Hamilton, a new faculty member in URIs College of Business of Administration, will be teaching the business courses.
For Dufault, organizing and teaching in the program is like returning home, since before coming to URI, she was associate director for education and academic affairs at Rhode Island Hospital. She is currently teaching nursing leadership and policy at the Rhode Island Hospital site.
"The program follows a trimester schedule, so that students will take three courses a year, with each class meeting one day for four hours over a 10-week period," Dufault said. "We scheduled courses to coincide with (statewide) school breaks."
Like the nurses at The Miriam, Rhode Island Hospital nurses are fully involved "They love it, and they come to class with energy and complete preparation," Dufault added.
There are about eight staff nurses in the program funded by the hospital, but most are clinical managers. Most hold their undergraduate degrees from URI, Rhode Island College, St. Anselms and Northeastern.
"They bring so much to the table," Dufault said. "Because they are immersed in their own rigorous hospital roles, they bring real problems and real solutions to the table.
"These nurses are responsible for hundreds of patients, millions of dollars and large units of the hospital," Dufault said.
For Further Information: Eric White (Miriam Hosp.) 401-444-7480, Polly Stiness (R.I. Hosp.) 401-444-3955