Nursing News

Trend Watch: Second-career Nurses

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By Jennifer Larson, contributor

July 29, 2014 - If you had another career before becoming a nurse, you’re not alone. A growing number of adults are returning to school because they’ve recognized the opportunities available to those who pursue careers in nursing.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), second-career nurses are helping to postpone the nursing shortage that lurks around the corner while making important contributions to the profession--and to their patients.

For that reason, the field has evolved to accommodate students who want to pursue nursing careers at a faster pace.

Vernell DeWitty: Accelerated programs creating more second-career nurses
Vernell DeWitty, PhD, MBA, RN, said that there has been a large increase in the number of students enrolled in accelerating nursing programs.

“When we look at the last 10 years, we tend to see a huge increase in the number of accelerated programs,” said Vernell DeWitty, PhD, MBA, RN, deputy director of the RWJF’s New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) Program. The program was designed to give more students access to nursing education, increase the diversity of the future workforce and develop a pipeline of potential nursing faculty who can keep the ball rolling by educating more nurses.

Accelerated baccalaureate nursing programs typically run between 12 and 18 months. The number of schools offering these programs has exceeded 250, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). These programs are designed to attract students who have some education and want an efficient way to complete the curriculum to enter nursing. Additionally, there are now more than 70 programs offering accelerated master’s degree programs.

The growing number of accelerated nursing programs has fueled a large increase in students.  In 2004, there were 6,090 students enrolled in accelerated baccalaureate nursing programs across the United States, according to the AACN. Eight years later, that student population had exceeded 15,000. And it continues to grow, as does the number of students enrolled in accelerated master’s nursing programs.

It makes sense that aspiring second-career nurses are attracted to accelerated programs. They may have families and responsibilities, but they also have figured out what they really want to do. And so these students are focused, DeWitty said.

“They want to come in, get it done and move on to the next thing,” she said.

After all, many of these students have already completed many requirements along the way to a BSN. They have another degree, they have acquired knowledge and maturity from working in another field, and they can work at a faster pace.

“It’s really the most efficient way to do it,” said DeWitty.

Mentoring is critical 

But second career students do have certain needs. It can be challenging to enroll in an accelerated nursing program and suddenly learn what “fast-paced” really means. Plus, nursing, like most other careers, has its own jargon and unique culture, and it may take a newbie some time to catch on and feel comfortable. Making the transition into a clinical job may necessitate some extra support.

That’s what the Second Career Alumni Mentoring Program (SCAMP) at the University of Michigan was designed to address. The program matches second-career nursing students with alumni to give them a voice of experience to consult when they have questions.

“You need that counselling, you need that guidance…because you’re now in that new discipline,” said Patricia Coleman-Burns, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing and the faculty lead for the SCAMP program.

Coleman-Burns noted that second-career students report it’s very valuable to have someone to guide them through the process of going to nursing school and entering the nursing profession. The program was established with the goal that each student–alumnus pair will contact each other weekly by phone or email--and hopefully even in person at some point.

“The advantage is that [they have] someone who is uniquely focused on them,” she said. “Someone specifically there to hear their questions and their concerns and do what a faculty member may or may not have time to do.”

And since the University of Michigan views its second-career nurses program as an accelerated entrance to graduate studies, mentoring for students who are preparing to take on advanced roles in nursing becomes even more important. The students benefit from interacting with nurses working at the highest level of their education and preparation, which helps them gain a better understanding of the culture and responsibility of the profession, said Coleman-Burns.

Mentoring is also a crucial component of the NCIN program. In fact, it’s one of the three essential components that make up a blueprint developed for schools of nursing that receive grants to support NCIN students, said DeWitty. (The other components are leadership development and an orientation program called the Pre-entry Immersion Program.)

Having these types of programs in place to support the students gives them a greater chance of success, which is demonstrated by the NCIN’s very low attrition rate.

Will we see more mentoring programs develop to support the continued influx of adults into nursing education programs? Perhaps. Experts definitely see the value in them.

“Second career programs everywhere could benefit from such a mentoring program, as the profession of nursing becomes increasingly and uniquely important in meeting the changing health care needs of the U.S. population,” said Coleman-Burns.

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