University of Texas at Arlington accelerated nursing program to become permanent

ARLINGTON -- An experimental nursing program that helps students accelerate their studies while they are paired with professionals will be permanently incorporated at the University of Texas at Arlington.

The College of Nursing used a $1.2 million three-year state grant to develop the 15-month accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing. The comparable coursework for nursing typically takes 24 months.

The program helps get more student nurses to the finish line quickly as attrition and failure rates remain a concern among educators. Demand for nurses, which has eased with the recession, is expected to increase again in the years ahead.

The university worked with Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth to enlist students. The Leveraging Existing Academic Resources in Nursing grant was funded with a Texas Health Resources in-kind donation. The state's portion was $556,291, and the resource's contribution was worth $664,848, said Dolores Aguilar, clinical instructor in the College of Nursing and the university's coordinator of the grant.

Students said the mentoring component is valuable.

"We had mentors who helped us answer questions," said Shawana Lee, who entered nursing after working in human resources for Target.

Lee, who graduated from the program last August, said it was a plus that she could complete the program in 15 months and move into positions in the resource system. She is a nurse at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth, where she works with patients who had strokes or seizures.

"It was a good move not just for me but to help other people," Lee said.

The program proved more than promising, Aguilar said. The first group of 12 students graduated last August, and all passed the national licensing exam. Among the second group of 20 students, 16 will graduate in four semesters, the others in December or May.

Students in the second group participated in a pinning ceremony Tuesday. The project was recently recognized by the state because it achieved a graduation and licensing rate of 85 percent or higher. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board awarded a $25,000 grant to UT-Arlington. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and the University of Texas at Austin also received awards.

"We feel that this is a strategy for student success," said Elizabeth Poster, dean of UT-Arlington's College of Nursing. "It's an asset for students to have coaches in addition to faculty."

The new grant will be used to develop detailed business plans that allow other nursing programs to replicate the projects. Remaining grant money can be used for recruitment and retention efforts.

"We want them to tell other institutions, 'Hey, this is what we did,'" said Dominic Chavez, spokesman for the board. By replicating the programs, the state hopes to counter nurse shortages, Chavez said.

As the economy turned down in the past couple of years, nurses have been staying on the job longer or going full time, making the nursing shortage less pronounced in Dallas-Fort Worth, Aguilar said. Graduates are still finding work, but not necessarily in their first job choice. For example, many are having to take evening shifts.

Aguilar said the original grant program is moving into the Academic Partnership Bachelor of Science in Nursing. The latest class, which includes 30 from the original program and 50 from UT-Arlington, is the first to evolve into the college's self-sustaining effort.

Aguilar said outreach has been expanded to work with the John Peter Smith, Baylor Health Care and Parkland hospital systems. UT-Arlington hopes to extend the program to hospitals outside the region.

Dr. Debra Logan, program coordinator for the grant for Texas Health Resources , said the program expects to enroll 80 student nurses in January. She said the program allows student nurses to emerge with little debt.

"People who come through our program are eligible for many benefits including tuition and book support," Logan said.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675