Ridgewater introduces BSN program

WILLMAR -- The patient is recovering from a C-section, and students in the Ridgewater College baccalaureate nursing program are gathered around her bed in the school's simulation laboratory.

BSN at Ridgewater College
Instructor Jeanne Cleary explains how to asses the heart and lungs on one of the simulators to first-semester students Chelsey Maroney, center, of Montevideo and Erin Eustice from Ortonville recently at Ridegwater College in Willmar. (TRIBUNE/Rand Middleton)

WILLMAR - The patient is recovering from a C-section, and students in the Ridgewater College baccalaureate nursing program are gathered around her bed in the school’s simulation laboratory.
Although the mannequin in the hospital bed isn’t real, she’s as realistic as the instructors can make her with surgical dressings, fake blood and vomit.
Julie Buntjer wants her students to know what to expect for an upcoming real-life visit to the OB floor at Rice Memorial Hospital. “I’m trying to give them visuals,” she explains.
But she also wants them to tune into the less obvious.
Pay attention to the new mother’s state of mind, she urges the students. “Is she talking about her emotions? Is she weepy?”
By the time this crop of nursing students graduates in spring 2017, they’ll have completed a full bachelor’s degree program to become registered nurses - a first for Ridgewater College.
The baccalaureate program, offered at the Ridgewater campuses in Willmar and Hutchinson, is among the first in Minnesota enabling students to complete four years of nursing education without leaving the community college campus. Under a dual admission agreement, students enrolled in the program here ultimately are awarded their BSN degree by Metropolitan State University.
This new option for students to become RNs is part of an innovative higher education partnership, the Minnesota Alliance for Nursing Education, which is working with the community college and state university systems to increase the state’s capacity for preparing bachelor’s-degree nurses.
“I’ve always wanted this. It’s so exciting,” said Lynn Johnson, director of the Ridgewater College nursing program.
It has been at least five years in the making and is being watched closely by others with a stake in the preparation of a well-educated nursing workforce, Johnson said.
There’s a need for nurses. Some observers predict a national shortage of 800,000 RNs by 2020.

Changing paradigms are demanding more from nurses: more training, skills and versatility for a wide range of practice, from traditional hospital nursing to chronic disease management, care coordination and more.
A key report, issued in 2010 by the Institute of Medicine, calls for nurses to have a full role in patient care.
The 40 students in Ridgewater College’s baccalaureate program 24 on the Willmar campus and 16 in Hutchinson - are among the first wave in this push toward the nursing workforce of the future.
From giving an injection to monitoring blood pressure, they’re learning the same hands-on skills that nurses traditionally have learned. But the curriculum also is instilling a foundation of knowledge that embraces wellness, chronic disease, aging, global health and more.
There’s “a whole new focus” on developing skills in reasoning and clinical judgment that will enable students to practice across the care continuum, Johnson said.
“We have to be preparing these people to think independently, to be leaders, to think on their feet,” she said. “Our focus is preparing them for the future. We have to practice at the top of our degree.”
On a recent winter morning, students on the Willmar campus were in the simulation lab for an obstetrics lesson on caring for mothers and newborns.
They’re enthusiastic about the knowledge and skills they’ve been gaining.
“I’ve grown a lot from just the few months we’ve been here,” said Samantha Rezac. Like many of her classmates, she’s had some work experience as a health aide but wants to rise to the next level.
“I wanted to be able to grow and take care of people,” she said.
The students said the curriculum has been everything they expected and more. Many of them arrived on the first day of school thinking they would dive into hands-on training. Instead, the first weeks were spent in the classroom learning the foundation on which their practical skills will be based.
“We’re learning about public health. We’re learning about surgical nursing,” Stephanie Eisel said.
They’re especially eager to start working with real patients. It’s the reason they chose nursing, they said.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” Breonna Froehlich said. “It’s always been my passion.”
Israel Canche-Colmenares looks forward to making a difference for patients. “Being able to have the ability to help save a life - it’s an honor,” he said.
About half of all newly licensed nurses come from community colleges, Johnson said. But the cost and accessibility of higher education often prevents them from completing a full bachelor’s degree, she said. “The problem is not enough of them have gone on.”
A goal of the Minnesota Alliance for Nursing Education is to reduce these barriers. The majority of students in Ridgewater College’s baccalaureate nursing program live within a 50-mile radius of the Willmar or Hutchinson campus, and many enrolled because the location is close to home.
“Otherwise a lot of us wouldn’t be doing it,” said Ashley Buchmann, adding that the affordability and smaller class sizes are also a plus.
One of Johnson’s hopes is that the program will boost the rural health care workforce, both in numbers and in leadership capacity. “I see that as very important in rural areas,” she said.
College officials are tracking numerous indicators of program success - admissions, attrition, the pass rate on the nursing licensing exam, job placement and more.
Officials also are closely watching the curriculum and listening to student feedback. “Because it is new, we’re always analyzing,” Johnson said. “Students will experience some change as they progress. If something needs to change now, then we will do it.”
From the program’s mission statement - which the students helped write - to a traditional “white coat” ceremony this fall, Ridgewater is working to build a culture of professionalism in nursing education, Johnson said.
“We had to reinvent ourselves. For the community we serve, we had to create a way for people to access this education,” she said. “This is a professional program. This is a career.”

BSN at Ridgewater College
Rachel Haubrich of Olivia and Daniel Lee of Benson practice head-to-toe assessments. They are among 40 students in the new bachelor of science in in nursing program at Ridgewater College in Willmar and Hutchinson. (TRIBUNE/Rand Middleton)

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