Officials at Polk State College hailed a unanimous decision today by the Florida Board of Education, clearing the way for the school to offer a B.S. degree in nursing, with courses to begin in August.
In making the announcement, Dr. Eileen Holden, President of Polk State College, described the news as “a real game-changer for our region.”
Polk State has long been one of the region’s primary producers of nurses: its well-established A.S. degree program leads directly to R.N. licensure, and its nursing students routinely score above the regional, state and national averages on the licensure exam. According to Dr. Annette Hutcherson, Director of Polk State’s Department of Nursing, those stellar results have been a hallmark of the program since its inception, in 1965: “When I’m asked to characterize our program, the word I use is ‘quality.’ We know that our graduates are prepared to deliver quality care and to make a difference from their first day on the job.”
Holden and Hutcherson both credited Dr. Mavra Kear, coordinator of the new B.S.N. program and Lakeland Regional Medical Center endowed professor in nursing, as laying the crucial groundwork for the new program.
According to Kear, the new program is “an incredible opportunity for nurses in our community to access affordable educational advancement and acquire expertise that working nurses need to enhance their careers and that local healthcare providers demand in the push for improved quality.”
While Polk State’s A.S. in Nursing is a “limited access” program that receives three applications each year for each available slot, the new B.S. degree will conform to the “open access” model. According to Kear, the sole requirements for admission are that the students must have Associate’s degree in Nursing from a regionally accredited institution or a Diploma in Nursing from an institution accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission and an active, unrestricted Florida license as a Registered Nurse.
Polk State officials expect demand for the new program to be significant. “We will do everything possible to accommodate whatever the local demand will be,” said Kear, noting that courses will be delivered in an accelerated, hybrid format, with working students able to complete the program on either the Winter Haven or Lakeland campus within 2 years.
According to Hutcherson, the new program will help the region keep pace with national trends: “Hospitals are experiencing increased pressure to convert pre-baccalaureate nurses to baccalaureate status. In fact, more and more states are requiring that upgrade in training. Now nurses in Polk and surrounding counties have access to a convenient, affordable path to that B.S. degree.”
While Polk State continues to focus most of its resources on its traditional strengths in two-year degree and workforce training programs, Holden notes that the B.S.N. program represents “a prime example” of the new degrees Polk State can deliver for the community, given its recently acquired four-year accreditation: “This isn’t a random innovation in our curriculum. This is something we developed strategically, with our partners in the healthcare sector, in response to specific needs in our region.”
Asked to explain the difference between an R.N. with an A.S. and an R.N. with a B.S., Kear emphasized the advanced training embedded in the baccalaureate program: “All of our R.N.’s are prepared to excel and to deliver quality care. However, the B.S. program focuses specifically on critical and creative thinking with a curriculum that produces a skillset that empowers nurses to make more sophisticated decisions.”
“Ultimately,” said Kear, “these advanced R.N.’s make an incredible difference in the efficiency and quality of healthcare. That’s why the national trend is moving in the direction noted by Dr. Hutcherson.”
Another hallmark of the program, said Holden, will be value. “Nobody in our region outscores us on the licensure exam, and we’re able to deliver this sort of quality at about half the cost of a state university and about a tenth the cost of some private schools. That’s real value.”
According to Kear, interested students should apply to Polk State this summer for the courses that will begin in August. For more information on nursing programs at Polk State College, visit http://www.Polk.edu/nursing.