Pioneering “Nurse Scholars” Mark Educational Milestone

Friday, December 8, 2017

The first 38 graduates of Samuel Merritt University’s RN to BSN program for registered nurses celebrated their academic achievement on December 5.

The nurses, who all work at Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Northern California, received pins and certificates to mark their completion of the baccalaureate program during an Inaugural Completion Ceremony.

The RN to BSN program, launched in May of 2016, is designed to help working nurses in Northern California gain leadership and teamwork skills that will enable them to advance their careers and help transform healthcare delivery. Research shows that boosting educational levels among nurses improves patient safety and health outcomes because of the critical role nurses play in healthcare.

SMU developed the RN to BSN program in collaboration with Kaiser’s Nurse Scholars Academy to offer registered nurses with an associate’s degree the opportunity to further their education by earning a bachelor’s degree. The program was inspired by a recommendation by the Institute of Medicine that 80 percent of the RN workforce be baccalaureate prepared by 2020 as healthcare grows increasingly complex.

“The program was cutting-edge and really forward-looking,” said RN to BSN graduate Dawn Rhoads-Vettuone, who has been a nurse for 12 years and works in labor and delivery at Kaiser in San Francisco. “I’m definitely more confident now.”

She said the program pushed her and the other students — called nurse scholars — “out of our comfort zones” and “helped us find our voices” by integrating the principles of Caring Science with a rigorous academic curriculum.

“Now we’re letting our patients drive care by listening to their needs and integrating evidence-based care into our practice,” said Rhoads-Vettuone.

At the ceremony, the Outstanding Nursing Caring Award was presented to Matthew Elliott, a scholar from the Sacramento cohort, and Bettina Gache, who studied with the Oakland cohort.

SMU President Sharon Diaz congratulated the nurse scholars for successfully juggling their jobs with their studies. She noted that SMU has a long history of collaborating with Kaiser on the development of programs to help meet healthcare workforce demands.

Kaiser Permanente Regional Chief Nurse Executive Theresa Brodrick encouraged the new graduates to be continual learners and to persuade their colleagues to apply to the RN to BSN program.

Kaiser, which set a goal of having 500 of their registered nurses earn a bachelor’s degree in the next five years, offers significant financial assistance to its RNs who enroll in SMU’s RN to BSN program.

RN to BSN is a year-round program offered on SMU’s Oakland, San Francisco Peninsula, and Sacramento campuses and at the Kaiser San Leandro Medical Center that takes five semesters, or 20 months, to complete. It includes courses in applied research and statistics, health policy, genetics and genomics, leadership, humanities, and community health.

The program is also among the first of its kind in the nation to include mindfulness as a cornerstone of its curriculum with students beginning their studies by taking a 30-hour mindfulness-based stress reduction course, aimed at reconnecting working nurses to the compassionate values that inspired them to become nurses in the first place.

“We’re hearing far more stories of transformation from our scholars than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams,” said SMU Nursing Professor Richard MacIntyre, PhD, who worked with Kaiser to launch the RN to BSN program. MacIntyre was honored at the ceremony for his “visionary leadership” in developing the program.

“We stuffed a lot into their minds, but the main thing is that their hearts are now open,” said MacIntyre.

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