Upgrading to Registered Nurse without leaving home
For Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) Bill Vowels, being able to learn in his home community, clinched his decision to become a nurse.
Upgrading to Registered Nurse without leaving home.
Four of the five Lakeland Long Term Care RPNs enrolled in the BScN bridging program are, from left, Bill Vowels, Judy Rivers, Marilyn Bell and Heather Moses.
Charlene Peck/North Star
“I couldn’t do this if I couldn’t learn here, I’d still be in construction and painting,” says Vowels, 34, who discovered his interest in health care while taking medical first response calls as a Carling Township volunteer firefighter.
Now, through a bridging program offered through Nipissing University, local RPNs like Vowels, can begin the next step towards advancing their career – without leaving home.
The part-time program through Nipissing’s School of Nursing starts this week and will enable students to upgrade from a RPN 3-year college diploma to an RN 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) university degree, while working. It’s a five-year program of blended learning combining non-clinical courses online and clinic experiences face-to-face. The bridging must be completed within seven years from the date of admission.
Vowels knows it will be tough. After his first year of RPN studies at Canadore in Parry Sound, he worked as a Personal Support Worker while continuing his second year of studies.
“I was going to school full time and working nights and weekends,” he recalls. “I was a mature students and I have kids, so it was a grueling process for two years.”
The flexible delivery of the RN bridging courses appealed to his busy life and work schedule.
“It allows you to work full-time and take courses part-time, so I can still function with my kids,” says Vowels, a single parent. “It allows me to stay in the area, not having to travel to go to a university to get my BScN. That’s the biggest thing, to be able to stay at home, do the courses online and then the clinical placements.”
He believes the BScN degree will open more doors in his career, beyond the limitations of the RPN role.
“You’re open up to specializing in certain areas in the hospital – ER or ICU – or even if you want to climb management in long term care,” he explains.
He credits RPN teaching staff at Canadore and in particular, Canadore College Practical Nursing Program Professor Bev Hall, who encouraged him to pursue his RN degree.
“I encourage all of the RPN students,” Hall notes. “We talk about it frequently.”
Support from his managers at Lakeland Long Term Care also played a huge role in his decision.
To participate in the RPN to BScN bridging program, the health care agency the student works for must be supportive and arrange a partnership with Nipissing University. Partnering employers help students schedule shifts around their learning schedule, and, in coordination with the university, arrange appropriate clinical learning placements in the students’ own environment, or in a community setting.
Deborah Randall-Wood, Director of Nursing and Personal Care at Lakeland is excited about the bridging program in Parry Sound, viewing it is as beneficial for RPNs, Lakeland LTC and the West Parry Sound community.
“There are so many more opportunities for them as RNs,” she says. “They can more easily step into leadership roles with an organization and at Lakeland particularly, we’re interested in that because the nurses in key leadership roles here are getting close to retirement age. It’s so much better to have nurses from our own community prepared to move into those roles in the future. That has a lot of benefits.”
In purely practical terms, she points out that RNs earn more money.
“We want those good paying jobs to go to local people, if we can,” she says.
While she’d be disappointed if the RPNs in the bridging program didn’t stay at Lakeland, she points out that being an RN does open many more doors in terms of community health and leadership roles.
“It really broadens what you can do,” she says. “For people who have that much joy in nursing and faith in what nurses can do in our community and are prepared to expand their roles, the more education they have and the more experience they get at that level. That’s got be great for Parry Sound, as well as for them, too.”
Currently the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario describes the average age of RNs in the province as 46.7 in 2011. In 2002 it was 44.8
“I think it’s an older profession, so we need folks to be ready to take on these roles so we don’t have future shortages,” says Randall-Wood. “And they need to be doing that now so that they have the experience to move into leadership roles in the future.”
She expects Lakeland LTC will be the benefactor as the five RPNs enrolled in the program begin implementing the new skills, research, and levels of assessment they’re learning.
“They’ll keep the rest of us on their toes because they’ll be asking questions,” she says. “It’s great to have students around.”
Belvedere Heights Home for the Aged, and Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare have also signed agreements as partnering health care agencies and a contract is being finalized between the West Parry Sound Health Centre (WPSHC) for the bridging program.
The goal, says Anne Litkowich, WPSHC Chief Nursing Officer and Director of Patient Centred Care, is to have the agreement in place in time for the January intake for the program.
“Nursing is an important part of operating a hospital and to provide an opportunity for students to do their placements and schoolwork here in Parry Sound, rather than having to go somewhere else is excellent,” Litkowich says.
While no RPNs from Belvedere are currently enrolled Director of Nursing and Personal Care Linda Nolan anticipates this will change in the next year or two.
“Right now we have a lot of new graduates and I’m thinking they’re probably taking a break right now because they’ve been struggling at working at jobs and going to school and believe they need to take a break,” she says.
“I think once the feedback gets around about how well this working, you’ll see more graduates come on board.”
Nolan also sees the views availability of the bridging program as a great RPN recruitment tool.
“People will want to come to your community if that’s an option and they’re able to continue to work,” she says.
Once news of the program spreads, Lynne Gregory who chairs the local Community Advisory Committee for Canadore College anticipates more RPNs may indicate an interest and encourage their employing agency to support them through a partnership with Nipissing.
Intakes are in September and January. Only those RPN courses completed within the past ten years are eligible for the grant of transfer credit.