By Luke Graham, Writer / Editor for Regis University
When Mercy Bowen thought about a career in nursing, many concerns crossed her mind.
Bowen wanted to stay close to her home in Brush, Colorado — about 90 miles east of Denver — but knew that the options for earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) were limited.
Then she heard about an Associate degree program at nearby Morgan Community College that piqued her interest.
Morgan Community College, which had long offered an Associate degree in nursing, had recently partnered with Regis University to offer a dual enrollment program for nurses. It was in part a reaction to the Institute of Medicine’s report that by 2020, 80 percent of nurses would need at least a Bachelor’s degree. The dual enrollment program allows students to begin obtaining an accelerated BSN degree from Regis during their fourth semester at Morgan.
“Timing was perfect,” Bowen said. “I knew I could get my BSN and start my job in a year. When you get your BSN from Regis, it’s an eye-catching thing. I knew I’d get more consideration and have more options from employers.”
Bowen was part of the first cohort to graduate from the dual enrollment program in March. Better yet, she found a job right away at Colorado Plains Medical Center in Fort Morgan, allowing her to serve her own community.
“I wanted to stay here and take care of my community,” she said. “Often rural communities are understaffed and they really have limited resources."
A Fast-Developing Partnership
Karen Pennington, interim dean of nursing at Regis, had seen the Institute of Medicine’s report and wondered what Regis could do to help meet the demand of producing more quality nurses with BSN degrees.
Just as vital for Pennington was placing well-rounded nurses in rural communities across Colorado, where the need for them, as well as other medical professionals, remains dire.
Pennington knew that if she convinced students from rural communities to attend university classes in Denver, they may never leave the city and return to their home communities. After hearing from a Regis faculty member who served on the Morgan advisory board, Pennington learned that the community college was looking for many of the same solutions.
“We asked what they wanted and needed,” Pennington said. “They told us what they wanted and what they envisioned. Then I said ‘we can do this.’”
The two partner schools put together a plan: Nursing students may enroll for their Associate degrees at Morgan and choose the dual enrollment option with Regis. If they choose to do so, students may begin taking classes with Regis during their fourth semester.
From there, classes are done in accelerated five-week blocks to allow the students to finish in a year. And a unique aspect of the program allows Regis professors to teach at Morgan during the first and last classes.
“Condensing it to five weeks — that was pretty outside the box,” said Kim Ewertz, the director of nursing education at Morgan. “I’ve really enjoyed it. I think we have a great partnership. There is a willingness to say ‘let’s try something new.’ Everybody is on the same page.”
Serving Multiple Roles
With nearly 20 nurses going through the first two cohorts, the results have been strong. Ewertz said that of a cohort of 12 nurses, 10 took jobs in the Morgan County service area, which covers more than 10,000 square miles and serves a wide rural community. That the program is getting highly trained nurses into the places that most need them is "huge for us,” said Ewertz.
Students like Bowen say that a nursing career in a rural community is demanding. But after completing the Regis program, Bowen said that she felt more than prepared — especially after taking a course that taught her how to serve the whole person while working with a variety of populations. It wasn’t what she thought nursing school would be about, but it was the class that now serves her the most.
“We learned how to help underserved, diverse and unique populations,” she said. “We learned how to understand that different people need different things.”
That’s what Pennington likes to hear. Part of Regis’ goal for the program was getting nurses to where they are needed most, and its early success has led to conversations with other community colleges across Colorado.
“The [desire] for education is there,” said Pennington. “It’s a benefit to us to provide excellent programs…The areas we’re targeting have the highest need and least amount of resources. That’s our mission.”