Sixteen registered nurses from throughout the area have become the first to take classes in Eastern Illinois University’s first-ever baccalaureate nursing program.
The students bring a variety of experiences, including pediatrics, home care and emergency services, but they all have the same goal – to improve their knowledge and skills so they can better their careers, and, ultimately, patients’ lives.
Most of the students work full-time, so the program strives to accommodate their schedules. This fall, classes meet on campus on Monday and Wednesday evenings.
Dianne Nelson, Ph.D., R.N., director of the program, is taking a hands-on approach by teaching “introduction to professional nursing,” the first class for all incoming students.
“I feel that I can meet all the students that way, and they can get to know me early,” Nelson said.
Nelson may already be familiar to many area nurses, as she previously taught nursing classes at Lake Land College in Mattoon for eight years before becoming an assistant professor in Indiana State University’s College of Nursing in Terre Haute, Ind.
Students may also recognize faculty member Rebecca Merten, who is a nurse practitioner in Effingham and previously taught at Lake Land College. Merten has been a nurse for about 30 years.
Merten said EIU’s baccalaureate program is a great complement to the associate degrees offered at Lake Land. In the past, area nurses seeking bachelor’s degrees in their field had to either earn them by taking classes online or traveling a great distance.
EIU’s program, often termed an “RN to BSN completion program,” aims to help registered nurses improve clinical practice; gain expanded career opportunities, such as working as a nurse manager; or move on to graduate school to become an advanced practice nurse or an educator in higher education.
EIU’s curriculum builds on the nurses’ existing knowledge base and experience, avoiding repetition.
Student Michele Kroeger, director of emergency services at Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Mattoon, said she is very excited about the opportunity.
“I sent Dr. Nelson an e-mail saying, ‘I am so psyched up for this,’” Kroeger said. “It’s just a tremendous boon for me.”
Kroeger, who has been a nurse since 1981, would eventually like to teach so she can help train other nurses for their careers.
“My passion is nursing,” Kroeger said. “To me, nursing is the best profession you can pick, because there are so many opportunities. This is a way you can intimately be involved in people’s lives, at their worst and at their best.”
Kroeger recognizes other SBLHC faces in her classes, and she predicts more and more of her fellow SBLHC employees will take advantage of the program in coming semesters.
“One of our (SBLHC’s) strategic objectives is to create a culture of lifelong learning,” Kroeger said. “After our experience, I think word will get out more.”
Nurses who have the opportunity to advance their education are more likely to remain in the profession, Nelson said.
Students will be admitted each fall and spring, on either a full-time or part-time basis. Nelson hopes to eventually be able to accept 30 students per semester.
Applications for the spring semester will be due Nov. 15, and Nelson expects seats to fill quickly.