Nursing school looks to expand online programs

Since Danielle Melican started working the night shift at a New Jersey hospital, she has tried to squeeze in her GW School of Nursing class work between seeing patients at 2 a.m.

Melican, 38, became one of only three students piloting the nursing school’s online accelerated master’s program, which GW’s newest school wants to grow to bring in more students and polish the school’s appeal outside D.C.

“I’ve really been able to tailor the program to my lifestyle, which is very chaotic,” said Melican, who has five children and added that the $575 she will pay per credit was cheaper than other schools she eyed.

The nursing school, only founded in 2010, is trying to separate itself from its competition partly through a program that allows students to save time in pursuing a master’s of nursing degree by bridging it with an associate degree. The program also responds to a shortage in primary care providers, a problem that’s become especially rash in rural and poor towns.

The program, called the ADN-BSN/MSN Nursing Advancement, started as a pilot program this year and will start recruiting applicants for an expansion next month for aspiring midwives or nurse practitioners.

A 2010 Institute of Medicine report called on nurses to earn advanced degrees so they could help a medical shortage by seeing patients as nurse practitioners.

Stephanie Wright, interim senior associate dean for academic affairs, said the growing school is trying to prepare for an influx of students.

“We’re actually worried about the numbers we might get. We might get a lot, and so we’re trying to gear ourselves on how to manage that, but we don’t know what’s the truth,” she said.

The combination makes a big difference for nurses trying to help their careers, particularly in rural areas, associate nursing professor Mayri Leslie said. And the online program helps the school attract students otherwise uninterested in a GW degree by allowing them to watch lectures online.

Students work from their homes and only come to GW three times during the program: once for orientation, once for pre-clinical testing and then for a final testing and graduation. Through a partnership with GW, credits that students earn toward their associate degree at community colleges can be applied to a University program once they’ve completed requirements.

Most nurses in these areas have a two-year associate degree but it would take them six years to get their master’s.

Melican said the program still needs some improvements and should be using more social media for the students performing medical training from a distance.

“You’re sort of isolated at times, and if we were able to talk essentially more freely to one another, it would really help the program and get rid of the sense of isolation,” she said.

The nursing school, which houses its 116-student bachelor’s program on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus, could also forge partnerships with other rural Virginia community colleges next year to help students combine work on lower degrees with advanced degrees in the program. It started a partnership in March with a community college in Alleghany County, Va.

The program also leans on one of the nursing school’s strengths: its online reputation. Administrators touted its No. 1 rank in faculty credentials and training from U.S. News & World Report’s inaugural rankings of online graduate programs this year.

The school has kept growing overall, with a 100-student jump in graduate enrollment two years ago, a program that is almost entirely online. Undergraduate enrollment, filled with students who typically live off campus and in Virginia, also inched up this year after doubling two years ago.

“Our goal at the beginning was to offer a high-quality online experience for the students. So we have worked very hard at making that happen, because online education sometime gets a bad rap, because there are a lot of people who do it and don’t do it well,” Wright said. “We knew that it could be done well.”

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