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Four-year nursing program coming to Harrisburg University

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Harrisburg University will expand its medical offerings with a nursing certification and degree program slated for roll-out in fall 2018.

The university, centered in downtown Harrisburg, has opened registration for a four-year program that will create a track for nursing students to go from a registered nurse certification to a bachelor’s of science in nursing - also known as an RN-to-BSN program.

Courses will be offered in seven-week full-time sessions with part-time options available as well. The program will initially enroll 20 students with plans to expand, and will be focused on leadership and technology in the nursing profession.

"With the changes in health care and the technology that’s driving health care, we need to have great leaders in the health care systems, and nurses are perfectly positioned to do that," said Mark Crider, executive director of the new program and president of the Pennsylvania State Nursing Association. 

Crider, who joined the university in 2017, said the program was developed with the needs of local employers in mind.

"The community has said we’re not getting enough educated nurses. The community has actually come to the university and asked for help," said Crider.

The university consulted with UPMC Pinnacle, Geisinger, and other health networks in Central Pennsylvania to understand what programs would supply employers with the workers they need.

"As we do with all of our programs, we try to get the voice of the employers and put in place programs that try to meet the needs of employers today or in the future," said Eric Darr, president of Harrisburg University.

The program is one of several new advancements in the university’s medical offerings, said Darr.

The school is also preparing graduate-level nursing programs and a pre-med track for students pursuing a medical degree, and it is currently looking for someone to head a pharmaceutical science program.

According to Darr and Crider, much of this expansion will grow into a 36-story tower, plans for which were unveiled by the university in November. The building is slated to open in 2021.

According to Crider, changes in the industry are making four-year nursing programs like the one offered by Harrisburg University a necessity for both employers and nurses.

He pointed to work by University of Pennsylvania researcher Linda Aiken linking quality of patient care with the level of education held by a hospital’s nursing staff. In a study of 665 hospitals published in 2012, Aiken and her co-authors found a consistent relationship between patient mortality and the percentage of nurses on staff with a four-year degree.

"That was the first research to establish higher nursing education’s impact on patient care," said Crider.

He also referenced a new law in New York signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in December requiring all licensed nurses to obtain a BSN within 10 years of obtaining their RN - a concept often paraphrased as "BSN in 10."

The movement towards a BSN is not meant to force out nurses with a registered nurse certification, which only takes two years and could be more attractive to students in an era of growing student debt.

"I’m working very closely with associate’s degree programs and creating that actual pathway beyond what we’ve done before, working more closely to support an individual who chooses that way to become a nurse, because it is a great way to start in the program," said Crider.

According to a 2014 report by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, RN-to-BSN programs in Pennsylvania have more than doubled their enrollment since 2002, climbing from just over 7,500 enrollees to nearly 13,400 enrollees in 2014.

Providing more options in the pipeline from RN to BSN is important for the field’s ethnic diversity,  as well,said Crider.

"We don’t really reflect the patient population in our diversity, so keeping these programs is a way to impact that as well," said Crider.

While Pennsylvania is not currently experiencing a nursing shortage, a report published in September by the advocacy group Nurses of Pennsylvania found staffing at hospitals in the state are at a "breaking point" with a majority of nurses reporting high turnover and less time spent with patients.

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