UTEP's RN-to-BSN program celebrated 30 years on May 6, 2019. Past directors include, from left, (standing) Gloria McKee, Ph.D., and Audree Reynolds, Ph.D. Melissa Wholeben, Ph.D., seated, has led the program since 2015.

UTEP RN-to-BSN Program celebrates 30 Years

Thirteen years after earning an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) from Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, Raul Guevara took his first step toward becoming a family nurse practitioner: he returned to school in 2016 for a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

The University of Texas at El Paso’s RN-to-BSN (Registered Nurse-to-Bachelor of Science in Nursing) online degree offered Guevara the flexibility to take classes day or night as he worked full time as an emergency room travel nurse in Virginia.

Nurses in the RN-to-BSN program build upon their education and clinical experience to broaden their scope of practice and enhance their communication, critical thinking and leadership skills. Students can earn their BSN degrees in as little as two-and-a-half semesters.

The degrees can lead to career advancement, graduate school opportunities and better job security.

“A lot of ADN nurses or LVNs (licensed vocational nurses) are very task oriented,” said Guevara, a 2016 program graduate. “As a BSN nurse, you have to do more (patient) assessments and you have to use more critical thinking skills. The RN-to-BSN program definitely enhanced my abilities to provide more holistic care and to look at the patient as a whole as opposed to focusing on one specific thing.”

According to the American Association of the Colleges of Nursing (AACN), BSN-prepared nurses experience better patient outcomes, greater nursing competency, more effective communication skills and stronger leadership skills than nurses with an associate degree.

Since 1989, hundreds of registered nurses have earned their bachelor’s degrees from UTEP’s RN-to-BSN program.

The UTEP School of Nursing celebrated the program’s 30th anniversary on National Nurses Day on May 6, 2019.  The celebration also commemorated 40 years of the Delta Kappa Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International, the national nursing honor society.

“As I was a graduate of an RN-to-BSN program at Ohio State University, I was very supportive of the implementation of a similar program here at UTEP as part of our career development initiatives for registered nurses,” said UTEP Professor Emerita Audree Reynolds, Ph.D., one of the program’s first directors. “There are many opportunities for nurses to grow within the nursing profession, and the RN-to-BSN option is one pathway to develop professional excellence.”

You’ve Got Mail

Before the days of online learning, the BSN for Registered Nurses was an on-campus program in the College of Nursing and Allied Health (now the UTEP School of Nursing) that catered mostly to graduates from El Paso Community College’s ADN program. To accommodate their work schedules, students attended classes on Friday afternoons and Saturdays in UTEP’s Campbell Building just north of downtown El Paso.

By the early 2000s, online education was growing in popularity. Students could connect to online programs from anywhere in the world if they had a computer and internet access. Reynolds used a grant she received in 2004 from The University of Texas Telecampus System to transition the RN-to-BSN degree from an on-campus program to an online program.

Gloria McKee, Ph.D., UTEP RN-to-BSN director from 2004-07, said the online option attracted nurses from throughout West Texas. Enrollment increased from 30 on-campus students to 100 online students in the first year.

“There were a lot of comments from students that were very favorable because there were a lot of nurses who previously did not have the time to come to class on campus or they had kids to take care of,” said McKee, UTEP School of Nursing associate professor and associate dean for undergraduate education. “In the online option, they were able to (study) at night or whenever they had time.”

Students communicated with faculty by email and interacted with classmates via group discussion boards. In areas where internet service was not yet available, students drove to public libraries in nearby cities to login to classes, Reynolds recalled.

“Our nursing education initiatives for that time period were innovative,” Reynolds said. “Distance was no longer a barrier to continuing one’s professional nursing education.”

Shift in Nursing 

Today, the RN-to-BSN program is 100% online via Blackboard, UTEP’s online learning environment. Coursework focuses on the transition from RN to BSN, informatics, leadership, research and community nursing.

“Our program is very flexible and accessible to students worldwide with smaller classes that allow for more interaction and one-on-one guidance from faculty,” said Melissa Wholeben, Ph.D., RN-to-BSN director since 2015.

Starting in 2019, students complete mentorship projects that tie into their specialty areas such as pediatrics, critical care and neurology. The goal is to improve health care services in their practice settings and communities by incorporating local resources that are available to patients and their families.

Wholeben said these experiences prepare nurses for the shift from primary care to preventive care.

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine recommended that 80 percent of nurses in the United States have at least a BSN by 2020. Since then, more health care facilities have required nursing candidates to have a baccalaureate degree.

Lauren Black, a registered nurse for 15 years, said she hopes a BSN degree will help her move into a management or leadership position.

“I have worked in a leadership role for many years now, and unfortunately I cannot obtain the actual management title due to my lack of a BSN degree,” said Black, who expects to graduate in May 2019. “I am hoping to further my leadership role with this degree.”

The program also has created a pipeline of nurse recruits for graduate school.

Since 2017, 22 RN-to-BSN graduates have enrolled in UTEP’s nurse practitioner, nurse educator, and nursing administration and management programs.

After earning his BSN degree, Raul Guevara has continued his efforts to become a nurse practitioner. He finished UTEP’s Master of Science in Nursing, Nurse Educator program on April 29, 2019. He has applied to the University’s nurse practitioner postgraduate certificate program.

“I’d like to specialize as a hospice and palliative care nurse practitioner,” Guevara said. “There’s a (tremendous) amount of education that patients and families need once they go into hospice. As a nurse educator, I can give them the information that they need to understand hospice care.”

Author:  Laura L. Acosta – UTEP Communications