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UW-Eau Claire to Implement 'Fast-Track' Nursing Program for Second-Degree Students

RELEASED: Feb. 2, 2005

EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire will offer a "fast track" baccalaureate nursing degree program for individuals who have already completed a bachelor's degree in another field, thanks to a nearly $300,000 federal education grant.

The congressionally directed grant, which was obtained with the help of U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), will be used for planning and start-up costs for an accelerated nursing program, which is expected to increase the number of nurses in the region.

"Wisconsin and the nation are currently experiencing a shortage of registered nurses," said Kind, a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. "With these grant funds, UW-Eau Claire can build upon its exceptional nursing program to meet the professional nursing needs of the region and expand the learning opportunities for students interested in the field."

Elaine Wendt, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, anticipates 16 second-degree students will be admitted to each class of the accelerated program, which will get underway in January 2006. The program will require 14-16 months of full-time study for qualified individuals.

"To qualify, students must have at least a bachelor's degree and they must meet the prerequisites for admittance to the nursing program, including required science and statistics courses," Wendt said.

The program will be offered at UW-Eau Claire and its nursing satellite site at Marshfield. "I anticipate that most students will probably be from western and northern Wisconsin," Wendt said. "It's a wonderful opportunity for the Chippewa Valley and the region and should help meet the nursing shortage in this area."

The accelerated program will require two semesters, plus a Summer and Winterim session, for students to complete the nursing courses and clinical requirements. Currently UW-Eau Claire admits 40 students each year to its traditional baccalaureate nursing degree program, which requires three years to complete because of the sequencing of courses and the need to integrate general education courses throughout the three years.

"This will be an intensive, year-round program of full-time study," Wendt said. "Students won't have time to work while in the program, but they will be able to finish in a little more than a year instead of three years."

Upon completion of the curriculum, the graduates will be eligible to sit for the national licensing examination and get jobs as registered nurses, jobs that pay between $35,000 and $50,000 to beginning nurses, said Wendt. In addition, she said, some hospitals and health care agencies are offering interest-free educational loans as part of their recruitment programs.

"St. Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield, for example, is supporting people in these kinds of programs with no-interest loans of $10,000 if they agree to work there after graduation," Wendt said. "There are some very good opportunities available and prospective students should check them out."

Wendt expects the accelerated program to open up new spots in the traditional program, which each semester turns away 70-80 fully qualified students because of a lack of space and resources. An additional 15-20 are turned away each year at the Marshfield site.

"Each year, overall, we admit 12-15 second-degree students, so the accelerated program will in all likelihood make space for additional students in our generic program," Wendt said. "We live in an age when it's becoming more common for people to start one career and then decide to explore new fields."

UW-Eau Claire will need additional personnel, mostly faculty, and other resources to implement the new program, Wendt said.

"The grant allows us to get started, but we will need additional funding to sustain the program," Wendt said. "We are currently scurrying to find additional funding to make that possible."

UW-Eau Claire is the only public university in north western and north central Wisconsin that offers a baccalaureate degree in nursing. It graduates about 105 bachelor's degree students each year and collaborates with the four other UW System schools in offering a collaborative program for diploma and associate degree prepares nurses to earn a BSN. It also offers a master's program that prepared advanced clinical practice nurses, nurse educators and nurse administrators.

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JW/JB

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