Unique Collaboration with Bassett Medical Center Yields First Graduates

  By Patrick Broadwater
  Wednesday, May 30, 2018 2:23 PM
  Bachelors, RN Completion

Bassett students at graduation

Among the hundreds of graduates walking across the Eastman Theatre stage at the University of Rochester School of Nursing Commencement ceremony May 18 were a handful of students making their first trip to the university.

Four nurses from Bassett Medical Center received their bachelor’s degrees without having set foot on the Rochester campus thanks to a unique partnership between the two institutions that allowed the students to complete the RN to BS program through a combination of online courses and on-site instruction at the hospital in Cooperstown.

Recognizing the need and value of a bachelor’s-prepared nursing workforce, senior leadership at Bassett and the School of Nursing began discussing an educational collaboration in 2016 that would feed enrollment into the UR Nursing RN to BS program and offer Bassett students a widely regarded education at a deeply discounted price. By January 2017, the inaugural cohort of four nurses – Jason Burns, Tiffini Florence, Keri Johnson, and Janet Ratliff – had enrolled and begun taking classes. Although the students each have one more semester of general education courses to complete, they finished their nursing core courses in May, allowing them to process with their peer RN to BS graduates at graduation.

“Recent research studies clearly demonstrate the added value of BS education in terms of improved patient outcomes,” said Carol Forman, director of inpatient nursing – critical care and administrative coordinator for the partnership at Bassett. “We’re a strong proponent of advancing nursing education and practice and what I liked about the University of Rochester’s philosophy was they’re not here to teach you about IVs and medications, but how to advance your practice and think about things in a different way. And I believe that’s what they’ve done.”

“The curriculum is more in-depth than an associate or diploma program,” said Ratliff, a psych nurse with more than 20 years of experience. “I’ve learned so much, and I have a different approach to my career and my practice. You just learn to think differently.”

“Getting your bachelor’s really gives you a different lens on how to look at patient care and improving patient care in a bigger picture,” added Margaret Carno, PhD, MBA, MJ, RN, CPNP, D.ABSM, FNAP, FAAN, professor of clinical nursing and program director of the School of Nursing’s RN to BS program. “The other thing is that once nurses get their bachelor’s, the world is their oyster. They can go into a number of different areas – care management, home care, they can get their master’s. It’s really the first step for people into that wider world.”

The Bassett program mirrored the traditional RN to BS hybrid-online model offered in Rochester. It mixed online courses with semi-monthly classroom sessions over a roughly 18-month period. The only difference was that the UR Nursing professors drove three hours to Cooperstown for each of the in-person class sessions. There were some minor organizational and logistical challenges early on in the collaboration, such as securing classroom space in the hospital, making sure everyone had access to wifi, and getting students familiar with the School of Nursing network. But the UR Nursing faculty and staff, based on student feedback, remained flexible and made adjustments as needed on the fly.

“There was definitely a feeling out process for faculty and the students, but they made adjustments as things went on,” said Burns, a nurse on the special care unit in his fourth year at Bassett. “But I think all of us feel proud that we have gone through this and were successful. It’s a big accomplishment. It was hard, but in the end it was worth the struggle we had to go through to get this.”

“The University of Rochester has a fantastic reputation. To me it was a no-brainer to be a part of this,” said Johnson, a critical care nurse for the past 20 years. “It was very beneficial. I was not thinking that I needed a bachelor’s – I’d been doing this for so long – but it really advanced me and made my thinking more broad in my practice.”

A big factor in the student success was the support they received from School of Nursing faculty and administration. The program is intentional in providing plenty of opportunities for engagement with students – via phone, email, or in-person – to make sure they are on track and comfortable with the material.

“The most important thing in an RN to BS program is to be supportive,” Carno said. “These are working nurses who may not have gone back to school for a number of years, who have families – they might be part of the sandwich generation. They have other commitments. It really takes a lot of coaching with these students, helping them understanding that they can do the program. Especially for students being such a distance away, it’s really important to keep those lines of communication open to them.”

The program at Bassett got off to such as successful start that nine students enrolled in the second cohort, which began in the fall of 2017 and there is a waiting list for the third cohort scheduled to start in fall of 2018.

Three members of the initial cohort plan to use their new degree as a means to enter hospital management, while Ratliff would like to pursue her master’s as a psychiatric nurse practitioner. 

“I could not have done this program if it wasn't for the amazing support from Margaret and [Assistant Professor] David [Goede]” said Florence, who has been a nurse for seven years and works in the cardiac cath lab at Bassett. “I felt like they truly wanted us all to succeed and did everything in their power to help us be successful.

“This program puts students first and helps them succeed. The instructors made all the difference in the world for me. From answering my endless questions to ‘talking me off the ledge,’ I felt like they were truly there for me from start to finish. I will definitely be recommending this program to my co-workers!”