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Wingate adding RN-to-BSN option for nurses

Niklas Martin

To meet the nation’s increasing healthcare needs, the Institute of Medicine recommended in 2010 that 80 percent of nurses have at least a bachelor of science in their field by 2020. To help reach that goal, Wingate’s Department of Nursing will offer an RN-to-BSN completion program beginning in January on the University’s Hendersonville campus and later next year at Wingate. The new offering is part of an articulation agreement signed Thursday between the state’s Community College System (NCCCS) and North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities.

“This is essentially a transfer agreement that will help students make a smooth transition from the RN to the BSN. It will be natural fit for the Hendersonville campus with Blue Ridge Community College located in the same building,” explains Dr. Helen Tate, Wingate’s provost. “It will allow us to use the space in that building in the evening, making the entire campus operations more cost-efficient while serving a critical need in the Hendersonville area.”

A study by the Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC-Chapel Hill shows that while North Carolina has more nurses per capita than the national average, the nurses are clustered in urban areas with large hospital systems, leaving many rural communities in a fix. Henderson County technically lost its “rural” designation in 2010, when the population density surpassed 250 residents per square mile, but it is still among 24 counties in the Tar Heel that are considered health professional shortage areas, according to the North Carolina Office of Rural Health and Community Care. An online job search yields more than 300 openings for registered nurses within 25 miles of Hendersonville.

Wingate University officials have wanted to provide a nursing program for Hendersonville since 2014, when planning got underway for the $32 million state-of-the-art Health Sciences Center, a partnership between Henderson County, Pardee UNC Health Care, Blue Ridge Community College, the city of Hendersonville and the University.

“Blue Ridge wants to sell the point to their students: ‘Come here and get an associate’s degree, then move down a floor and finish your bachelor’s in the same building,’” says Dr. Kristen Barbee, director of Wingate’s nursing program and an enthusiastic signer of the articulation agreement.

A group of well-dressed people smile.

Dr. Kristen Barbee, Wingate’s director of nursing, front left, was among a group of higher-education representatives who gathered last week to give their support to an agreement that will smooth the way for RNs finishing their associate’s degrees at North Carolina community colleges to move on toward a BSN degree.

New associate’s-degree graduates as well as seasoned nurses who want to advance from RN to BSN will find not only convenience in the evening classes, but an appreciation of where they are in their careers and of what it’s like to take advanced courses while also working full-time. Four of six Wingate nursing faculty members took the same path, first earning a diploma or associate’s degree, going to work as an RN, and later completing their bachelor’s degrees. Barbee was working full-time in a hospital operating room when she went back to school.

She said registered nurses entering Wingate’s completion program will need their associate’s degree, a GPA of at least 2.0 and a C average or better in the liberal arts courses required by the NCCCS-NCICU agreement. She expects it will take them 12 to 18 months to earn the 31 additional credit hours for a BSN.

“All states and hospitals are encouraging nurses to get their bachelor’s degrees. In fact, New York is the first state to require nurses without the bachelor’s to get it within 10 years,” Barbee says. “Most hospitals give preference to the BSN, and if nurses want to move into management, they have to have it and be working toward their master’s.”

She said the addition of a BSN completion option is a natural progression for Wingate’s nursing program, which has turned out 53 BSN grads since its first cohort crossed the stage in 2014. The last two years, the program has celebrated a 100-percent pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurse.

One aspect of Wingate’s RN-to-BSN that will make its classes distinctive is that they will be in-person, rather than online.

Two women and a man stand outside of a building.

From left, Dr. Kristen Barbee, Wingate’s director of nursing, Rep. Craig Horn and Hope Williams with NCICU celebrate the signing of an articulation agreement between NCICU and the state’s community college system.

“There are no face-to-face programs in the area,” Barbee says. Although she anticipates Wingate’s early classes to be small, she believes there is great potential for growth, especially with community colleges such as Blue Ridge, Stanly and South Piedmont offering associate’s degrees.

Nurses already working as RNs can often get tuition reimbursement from their hospitals as they study for their bachelor’s degree.

Most importantly, Barbee says the additional courses will help nurses provide more advanced care for better patient outcomes.

“What I did in my nursing job when I first got out of school in 1992 is nothing compared to what nurses do today,” she says.

Research has linked higher RN education levels to lower hospital mortality rates. Further, a 2013 study showed that hospitals with a higher percentage of RNs with baccalaureate or higher degrees had lower rates of decubitus ulcers, lower rates of postoperative deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism and shorter lengths of stay.

To learn more about Wingate’s nursing program, contact Kristen Barbee.