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Reading Hospital and Alvernia University launch dual-enrollment program for nurses

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Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 3:59 pm

Alvernia University and The Reading Hospital and Medical Center have formed a partnership that will increase access and opportunities for advanced education through formal degree programs.

The move follows mounting interest from health care professionals in the region and nation to ensure that nurses are appropriately educated for the increasingly complex challenges of the health care environment.

Beginning in the fall, nursing students enrolling in the hospital's School of Health Sciences will be simultaneously enrolled at"> Alvernia.

The dual-enrollment program will allow those completing the School of Health Sciences Nursing Program to benefit from a seamless transition into Alvernia's bachelor of science nursing degree program.

Alvernia and the hospital also plan to jointly offer an associate's degree in medical imaging beginning in 2013, an extension of the Radiologic Technology Program currently offered by the school.

The initiatives directly address calls from the National League for Nursing, the Institute of Medicine, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, and other organizations to promote academic progression within nursing.

In addition to paving the way for academic progression, the partnership assures that nursing education remains accessible and cost-effective by enabling students to begin their education in a diploma program and transition into the bachelor's degree program.

"In looking to the future, we are eager to join our proud educational heritage to that of our community partner Alvernia University," said Clint Matthews, president and CEO of the hospital. "The benefit of this partnership to our students will, of course, be critical. But the impact of this alliance on the health and well-being of this community will be long term."

Thomas F. Flynn, Alvernia's president, said the timing for the agreement between Reading Hospital and Alvernia is ideal, given the strength and reputation of Alvernia's nursing program and the rapidly rising educational expectations for the profession.

He envisions that the partnership will provide direct benefits to the Berks County community by ensuring the region has access to a pool of well-educated nurses to meet the needs of residents and that it can become a model for institutions.

"We view our relationship with the School of Health Sciences as an extension of our Franciscan mission that emphasizes civic engagement, community partnerships, and care for others. And it certainly emphasizes our commitment to ensure the best education for nurses," Flynn said. "This initiative fits perfectly with our work with other hospitals and programs, including the Berks Regional Nursing Research Alliance, and with our larger strategy focused on the allied sciences and health care."

"The addition of the associate degree in medical imaging (radiology) and the proposed medical imaging bachelor's degree completer program are exciting prospects for our community," said Debbie J. Rahn, director of the School of Health Sciences. "Currently, radiologic technologists must travel an hour to find a program for continuing education in medical imaging."

Nursing is one of the few professions in which a bachelor's degree is not currently required for entry level, noted Rahn. However, she said, there is mounting interest to increase requirements and make a bachelor's degree mandatory within a limited timeframe following graduation from a hospital-based diploma program or associate degree program in nursing. Some states have already introduced legislation to that effect.

Currently, a student can become a registered nurse by earning a diploma from a hospital-based program like that offered at the School of Health Sciences, an associate degree from a two-year community college program or a four-year bachelor's degree in nursing program (BSN), and passing a state examination.

"But the expectation and real push right now for nursing is lifelong learning," Rahn said. "The objective is to encourage nurses to continue their educations all the way to the doctorate level."

"Our goal with this partnership/initiative is to give a broad, diverse population access to nursing education by promoting academic progression for students to get a baccalaureate degree in nursing," said Karen S. Thacker, dean of the College of Professional Programs at Alvernia.

Research has suggested that the attainment of a bachelor's or higher degree in nursing results in improved critical thinking, decision making and communication. Hospitals with higher percentages of nurses who have attained degrees have better patient outcomes.

Thacker said she's pleased at how the university and hospital were able to work together to meet the needs of the community and the evolving health care field.

"We are two very different institutions, but we've kept the national nursing vision to improve patient outcomes in front of us," Thacker said. "That will benefit everyone."

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