Leading Initiatives

Accelerated Nursing Programs

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Accelerated Nursing Programs

by Nancy O. DeBasio, PhD, RN
Dean, Research College of Nursing

In recent months the significance of the nursing workforce shortage has reached crisis proportions. No one single factor is responsible; it is perhaps the confluence of several critical factors, as in the "perfect storm," that have contributed to the nursing profession's current state. The aging workforce, the projected need for a million new and replacement registered nurses by the year 2010, and the entry of 78 million baby boomers into an already over-taxed health-care delivery system over the next ten-year period will require the development and implementation of unique and creative strategies to reach out to new student populations. To further underscore the growing awareness of this shortage and its impact on patient care, several major reports have been issued over the past eighteen months citing strategies to meet this workforce crisis. The April 2002 American Hospital Association report "In Our Hands," the Institute of Medicine's "Crossing the Quality Chasm," the August 2002 Joint Commission's "Healthcare at the Crossroads: Strategies Addressing the Evolving Nursing Crisis," the Robert Wood Johnson report "Health Care's Human Crisis: The American Nursing Shortage," and the July 2002 report from the Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA) entitled "Projected Supply, Demand, and Shortages of Registered Nurses: 2000-2020" all point to the necessity of investing time, people, and funding to offer opportunities that will facilitate the growth of the nursing workforce in a format that is attractive, educationally sound, and timely.


Accelerated programs provide an innovative educational opportunity to non-nurse college graduates. Offered at both the baccalaureate and graduate levels, students build upon their previous undergraduate experience and transition into the nursing role in a shorter timeframe. At the baccalaureate level, the nursing curriculum is developed to reflect similar course objectives, course content, and clinical learning experiences to that of the traditional four-year curriculum; however, courses and clinical experiences are offered in an intense full-time format with no breaks between sessions. Generally, accelerated baccalaureate programs run from twelve to eighteen months, depending upon the institution. In addition, students must complete necessary science prerequisites such as anatomy and physiology, chemistry, and microbiology prior to entering the actual nursing courses. Some institutions include nursing courses such as nutrition and pathophysiology as prerequisites that must be successfully completed prior to admission to the actual fast-track nursing curriculum. Students with prior degrees are generally not required to complete additional liberal arts courses that were components of their previous degree program. Some institutions may require course work specific to the nature of that institution; for example, religiously based programs may require completion of religious studies/theology and philosophy courses prior to enrollment in the actual nursing curriculum. Due to the intensity of the curricula, students are often interviewed as a part of the screening process. Students are evaluated on their ability to learn in a fast-paced manner; their social support systems; their coping strategies; and their understanding of the format of compressed clinical and classroom instruction. In programs where Web-based education is a significant teaching strategy, students are evaluated on their computer capabilities and their previous exposure to independent, online instruction. Total nursing credit hours required varies from program to program. Generally students complete between 50 to 60 credit hours in the nursing major itself.

Generic or accelerated master's degree programs may be the programs of choice forindividuals who view this as the natural next step in their higher education. Often, career changers might question the rationale for completion of a second baccalaureate degree-if this is the case, the generic master's degree would be the option of choice. This choice may also be influenced by one's geographic location and the hiring practices of institutions in that particular region. Yale University initiated the first master's program for non-nurse college graduates in 1974. Entry-level master's programs provide basic nursing curricula, generally in the first year of the program, with the addition of graduate core courses and specialty-specific course work in the remainder of the program. At this time, most programs are approximately three years in length; however, institutions are reevaluating curricula and designing unique models that will meet nursing workforce needs as well as the educational needs of this population of learners. For example, the University of Iowa has recently received approval to award a professional master's degree in nursing and health-care practices that can be completed in four semesters. Some accelerated baccalaureate programs may offer an option where students can take a stated number of graduate credits during their baccalaureate experience that can be applied to completion of a master's degree in nursing.


What are key factors one should consider when evaluating a career change into nursing through an accelerated format? First, how would you evaluate yourself based on the following characteristics that are frequently used to describe these learners: highly motivated; strong academic record; inquisitive, sophisticated consumer of higher education; willing to challenge the status quo; assertive; high energy level; confidence in one's capabilities; commitment to an intense, compressed educational experience; and the desire to have a positive impact on the health of the nation and the global society. Secondly, are you in a position to enter a compressed educational format for a period of time to complete a baccalaureate or graduate degree in nursing? Lastly, are you interested in a career that has a multitude of opportunities---at the bedside, in industry, school nursing, research and development, pharmaceutical sales, home health, hospice care, case management, and long-term care . . . and where you can provide care to newborns, mothers, children, the elderly . . . virtually across the lifespan. Where you can decide that you would like to continue your education . . ..obtain a master's degree or a doctorate . . .and then choose to become a nursing educator, administrator, researcher, or provider of primary health care as a nurse practitioner. The opportunities are endless-- . . . the choice to make a difference is yours!!


Accelerated programs are not new to nursing education; however, there has been a significant increase in the number of baccalaureate and generic master's programs since the early 90s. To date there are more than ninety accelerated baccalaureate nursing programs, with twenty-four new programs in the planning stages, and twenty-seven generic master's programs. These programs are offered in thirty-six states and the District of Columbia, with the highest concentrations found in Pennsylvania, California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, Michigan, and Maryland.

Hospitals and health systems as well as other practice settings are eager to employ this pool of workers because they have demonstrated a record of success and a well-defined work ethic that facilitates a more rapid and smooth transition into highly complex health-care delivery environments.