The TTU nursing program’s expansion is in response to the increased demand for health care professionals across the country. The school admits students to its bachelor’s degree program twice a year and will increase admissions by 25 percent after the second round at the end of the fall semester. In partnership with other Tennessee Board of Regents universities, TTU’s nursing school offers a master’s degree program. Enrollment in that program increased 36 percent this fall over last.
“Employment opportunities, national initiatives in nursing and medicine and the state of healthcare reform are driving enrollment numbers. With the Affordable Care Act, we’re going to need primary care professionals,” said Bedelia Russell, interim dean of TTU’s Whitson-Hester School of Nursing.
“The research demonstrates over and over that quality nursing care equates to positive patient outcomes,” Russell said. “Nurses are at the front line of patient care.”
In recent years, enrollment numbers in the bachelor’s degree program have continued to grow, from 506 students in 2008 to 691 this year. Completing the BSN program qualifies students to sit for the National Council for Licensure Exam, which allows graduates to practice as registered nurses. Enrollment in the master’s degree program has grown nearly 200 percent, from 43 students in 2008 to 123 this year.
Next summer, TTU will offer an accelerated BSN program for students who have a bachelor’s degree in another discipline and have already completed the core science prerequisites.
“There is an emphasis nationally with diversifying the nursing workforce,” Russell said. “Many people are opting for nursing as a second career but may not be competitive in the applicant pools for the traditional BSN program. We believe this will be a popular option for non-traditional students.”
Whitson-Hester School of Nursing faculty are planning to offer the doctorate of nursing practice degree beginning in 2015 in a joint effort with East Tennessee State University College of Nursing. A practice-based doctorate, the program is an alternative to a research-focused terminal degree and emphasizes translating research into a clinical setting.
“We’re going to do some resource sharing, offering some DNP concentrations here and others at ETSU,” Russell said. “The majority of coursework will be in an online or hybrid delivery format with intensives and practicums on campus each semester.”
Many of the nursing students who enroll in the master’s program are familiar faces; they completed their bachelor’s degrees at TTU. The doctoral program will give them one more educational path through which to diversify and further their careers.
As the nursing program expands, TTU nursing students continue to achieve high scores on the licensure exam. Unofficial results from the May graduating class indicate TTU students had a pass rate of 95 percent. Because the exam’s difficulty level was increased this year, as it is every three years, the rate is something Russell says she is particularly proud of.
With every increase in difficulty, national trends indicate a nursing program’s scores will drop approximately 3.5 percent. This year, the national licensure pass rates dropped about 9.5 percent, according to Russell.
“We’re really pleased with that pass rate, because many schools in Tennessee are in the low 80s and some others across the nation are even in the 70s,” she said. “That slight decrease for us is a true reflection of the work of the faculty and the persistence, dedication and high quality of our students.”