SFC's program fills need for RNs seeking bachelor's degrees

RN/PCCN Janice Goodson, in the RN to BSN program at Santa Fe College, works in her unit, the Cardiology/Thoracic Surgery unit at Shands at the University of Florida in Gainesville on Thursday.

Erica Brough/ Staff Photographer
Published: Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 5:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 5:58 p.m.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly characterized a nursing program closed by the University of Florida in 2007. UF closed its accelerated RN to BSN program for nurses with an associate's degree who were seeking a bachelor's in nursing.

Janice Goodson, a registered nurse at Shands at the University of Florida, started her bachelor's degree in nursing at the university nearly 15 years ago. This spring, the 48-year-old has begun again, this time as part of the inaugural bachelor's degree nursing class at Santa Fe College.

“My 50th birthday present to myself is my bachelor's degree,” she said.

Santa Fe College this past week launched its bachelor's of science in nursing program in an attempt to fill the growing need across the area for nurses with higher training.

Of the 4,560 working registered nurses in Alachua County, more than half don't have a bachelor's degree, according to the Florida Center for Nursing.

In Bradford County, more than 65 percent of registered nurses hold associate degrees.

Area hospitals are putting greater emphasis on hiring registered nurses with a bachelor's degree to ensure patients are getting better care, local officials said.

Providing a place for nurses to extend their education also might help combat the nationwide nursing shortage. By 2020, the registered nursing shortage in Florida will reach nearly 10,000 positions, according to the Florida Center for Nursing.

According to SFC's application that allowed it to begin offering a bachelor's in nursing, the three major hospitals — Shands at UF, North Florida Regional Medical Center and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center — posted more than 160 vacancies for registered nurses in 2010.

In fall 2007, citing economic concerns, the University of Florida closed its accelerated RN to BSN program for nurses with an associate's degree who were seeking a bachelor's in nursing. That's when Santa Fe stepped in.

After meeting with UF officials soon after that program's closure, Santa Fe officials began working toward starting their own. The college's application was approved by the Department of Education during the summer, and the program was accredited in late December.

“In eight days, we had the first class filled with 30 students,” Ellis said.

A registered nurse administers patient-centric care in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities and is required only to pass a national licensure exam and hold an associate degree, but area hospitals are looking more toward BSN-prepared bedside nurses.

Irene Alexaitis, Shands' vice president for nursing and patient services, said nurses make a lifelong commitment to learning throughout their careers.

“Research has linked improved patient outcomes, such as lower mortality rates, pressure ulcers rates and urinary tract infections, to higher percentages of nurses within the workforce who are educated at the baccalaureate and graduate level,” Alexaitis said.

“The RN to BSN program at Santa Fe College gives nurses within our community an opportunity to fulfill their professional commitment to lifelong learning and continue to contribute to improving the quality of care provided to our community.”

Santa Fe asserted in its application that it was in a unique position to assist health care operators looking for qualified candidates, namely that the vast majority of Santa Fe students remain local.

Santa Fe's program serves primarily working nurses, Ellis said.

Many of the students in the new program currently are employed by area hospitals and health care providers, such as the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Shands and North Florida Regional Medical Center.

That's what attracted Goodson, who works the evening shift with a week on and a week off work. “My schedule doesn't fit with a lot of people,” she said. “And adult learning classes are usually in the evening when I work.”

Of 10 upper-level courses at SFC, seven are online. Students also will be required to complete a lab class and two local clinical practicums. Susan Beverung, program coordinator, said that just because the degree program is online, none of the rigor will be lost. “Online is much harder than face to face. You have to have self-discipline; you have to do the reading and work yourself.”

Employers don't worry either, she said.

“The feedback we get in the community is Santa Fe grads are highly sought after because they're coming from a known quality program,” Beverung said.

That's what brought Goodson back to SFC 18 years after she started working toward her associate of nursing degree at Santa Fe.

With her associate degree in hand, it was just a few years later that she left UF wondering what the purpose of a bachelor's degree was, she said.

“It never really seemed like it was going to make a difference,” she said.

Danielle Cantanese, 31, began her nursing career less than a year ago. After hearing from SFC about the new program, she signed up.

The program for her will be a stepping stone along her career path as she seeks more advanced responsibilities in her career, Cantanese said.

Without Santa Fe, Goodson said she would have dropped the quest for a four-year degree.

“I was successful at Santa Fe before,” she said. “I'm very proud to be a Santa Fe grad as an ASN, and I'm sure I'll be proud as a Santa Fe grad with a bachelor's. They do things right here.”

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