Castillo Rangel earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree online while living in Japan through UTEP’s RN-BSN program. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP Communications

UTEP’s Online Program Connects Nurses to Education Goals

Fifteen years had passed since the last time Castillo Rangel set foot on the campus of The University of Texas at El Paso.

When Rangel was a premed and dance student in 1999-2001, Centennial Plaza was covered in asphalt, and tennis courts lined the northeast corner of campus where the Health Sciences and Nursing Building now stands. Rangel left UTEP in 2001 and moved to California.

“We did not have a lot of this!” Rangel said when he visited UTEP a few weeks before he graduated from the School of Nursing’s Registered Nurse-to-Bachelor of Science in Nursing(RN-BSN) online program in May 2016. “The (Bhutanese pedestrian) bridge wasn’t there and we didn’t have this roundabout with the (“Mining Minds”) pickaxe. It’s nice.”

The RN-BSN program enables nurses like Rangel who have an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma to earn their BSN degree online in as little as three semesters. Rangel received an ADN from East Coast Polytechnic Institute in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in 2013.

The RN-BSN program started in 1972, but has been online since 2004. Students take classes from anywhere in the world where they have a computer and Internet access. More than 700 nurses have obtained their BSN degrees through the 100 percent online UTEP program.

“I believe in the value of continuing education in allowing me to provide the best care for my patients, and obtaining my BSN will enable me to explore better career options,” said Rangel, who earned his BSN while living overseas with his wife, a nurse at the U.S. Naval Branch Health Clinic in Atsugi, Japan. Rangel, who served in the Navy from 2006-10, is a volunteer staff nurse in the medical surgical unit at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, the largest U.S. military treatment facility on mainland Japan.

The RN-BSN’s flexible online learning environment is designed for working nurses who need to balance career and family obligations with their educational goals. The program is ideal for military service members and their spouses who frequently relocate from one duty station to another because they can complete their coursework at their convenience anywhere in the world.

UTEP’s Military Student Success Center estimates that 39 military-affiliated students were enrolled in the RN-BSN program during the spring 2016 semester.

“Online programs are attractive to military personnel and their families because of the accessibility that they can take with them through their military endeavors,” said Nadia Muñoz, director of UTEP’s Military Student Success Center. “Many service members and their families travel to places all over the world, and with online options they can continue to engage with their ambition to learn and succeed.”

UTEP’s RN-BSN curriculum builds upon the education and professional experience of registered nurses. Classes are entirely online and include contemporary professional nursing, informatics, leadership, research and statistics, and community nursing.

“They’re already working as nurses and they know how to take care of patients,” Melissa Wholeben, Ph.D., RN-BSN director, said. “We’re going to expand their knowledge base with leadership qualities and components and concepts that they didn’t learn in an ADN program. We’re also preparing them for graduate school.”

ADN and diploma nurses are generally limited to entry-level positions at hospitals and inpatient care facilities. A BSN not only enhances a nurse’s professional skill set, but it also provides career advancement, graduate school opportunities and better job security. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine recommended that 80 percent of nurses in the United States have at least a BSN by the year 2020. Since then, more health care facilities are requiring nursing candidates to have a baccalaureate degree.

Even though Jenell Denise Lower holds an ADN from Central Texas College in Killeen, Texas, she decided to obtain her BSN to make herself more employable and pursue a graduate nursing degree. She picked UTEP’s RN-BSN program because of its flexible start dates and the ability to take more than one course at a time.

“The program is flexible with a working nurse’s schedule,” said Lower, who lives at Fort Hood in Killeen with her Army husband. She expects to graduate in August 2016. “The most challenging part is finding time to study while working full time, but it’s definitely doable. I read nightly for an hour minimum to keep up with my reading, and on my days off I work on assignments.”

Online education has not only allowed Lower and Rangel to pursue their baccalaureate studies without physically being at UTEP, but faculty can also teach in the program from anywhere in the world. RN-BSN faculty live in Texas, Florida, Virginia and the Middle East.

Posting assignments and responding to student inquiries helped Glenn Barnes unwind after a 12-hour day working as a medic and team leader for the U.S. Consulate’s Emergency Response Team in Basrah, Iraq.

Barnes, a former U.S. Army Green Beret and Navy nurse, started teaching in the RN-BSN program in 2014, four years after he earned his graduate degree from UTEP’s online Master of Science in Nursing program.

“I like the freedom that working online gives me,” said Barnes, who left the Emergency Response Team in December 2015. “I’ve been away from my family on and off for 10 years. Now I can work from home on my own time.”

Barnes said he isn’t surprised when a student in another country is late with an assignment because a power outage disrupted Internet service. The same thing happened to him when he was about to post grades.

While in the Navy, Barnes was briefly stationed at the Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan. He knew his way around the base and was able to help Rangel streamline his project for his community nursing course.

As part of the class, students identify a problem in their community and develop solutions for that problem. Castillo was new to the base, but with Barnes’ guidance, he developed a list of resources to help families living on the naval base cope with the stress of moving to a new country.

“The best part about this job is the interaction with the students,” Barnes said. “I may not know what they look like, but I know their strengths, their weaknesses and their drive. I know which ones will go that extra mile and keep going for their master’s degree.”

For information on how to apply to UTEP’s RN-BSN program, click here.

Author:  Laura L. Acosta – UTEP Communications