SJR State Press Release

June 2012

SJR State closer to offering bachelor's degree in nursing

St. Johns River State College is one step closer to offering its third baccalaureate degree. The State Board of Education recently approved the proposal for a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing (B.S.N.). The four-year degree program faces one remaining step to become official - approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The earliest the College could offer the program would be fall 2013.

SJR State President Joe Pickens, J.D., said the College has moved forward with the degree based on evolving trends and demands in the health care field as well as results from the original baccalaureate degree surveys. The surveys showed an overwhelming support for the College to offer baccalaureate degrees, with nursing identified by stakeholders as being one of the highest areas of need.

"A perceived need for the degree has been validated by meetings with local health care providers in all three counties," Pickens said. "The College is listening to area health care industry leaders and continues in its commitment to provide educational opportunities for students and resources for the workforce."

Anna Lebesch, Ed.D., SJR State's vice president for workforce development, said the B.S.N. degree will be designed for Associate in Science degree in nursing graduates who hold a current, valid unencumbered Florida Registered Nursing (RN) license. "The program is affordable, flexible and within the local service district, allowing students to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to progress their nursing careers," Lebesch said. The program will be delivered through a combination of online and hybrid classes on all three campuses.

Local health care providers have expressed their support toward the new program, including officials at Haven Hospice. "North Central Florida and Haven Hospice will benefit greatly from an increased pool of nurses in the area," said Susan Follick, the Haven Hospice director of marketing and communications.

Orange Park Medical Center's Chief Executive Officer Tom Pentz said the College has been a strong partner in providing high-caliber nursing graduates as the facility continues to experience tremendous growth. "The addition of the B.S.N. program will prepare nurses to adapt to the rapidly expanding clinical knowledge and mounting complexities of health care as well as strengthen the partnership between the two institutions," Pentz said. "This local level of education aligns with Orange Park's continued emphasis on ensuring our community receives the highest level of quality health care."

OPMC officials have announced a commitment to provide a three-year grant assisting the College in the development and implementation of the program.

Flagler Hospital's Chief Learning Officer Patricia D. Moore, Ph.D., RN, said the program will be an asset to the hospital and the community. "Due to the constant changes and increased complexity of healthcare, all of which affect the nurse's role, it is critical that nurses have opportunities to obtain higher formal education, enabling them to better meet the numerous challenges occurring in today's healthcare environment," Moore said. "The new B.S.N. program at SJR State will greatly benefit nurses at Flagler Hospital by providing them with the opportunity to pursue formal education in their own community. We look forward to our continued partnership with the SJR State nursing program as we wholeheartedly support them in this new initiative."

Barbara Drummond-Huth, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, Flagler's Chief Nursing Officer, said the program is an important asset for St. Johns County. "At a time when it is estimated that there will be a severe shortage of nurses in Florida in the coming years, programs such as these are vital not only to educate new nurses, but allow current nurses to further their education and careers," Drummond-Huth said. "We are excited for our nurses to have this local opportunity and congratulate SJR State on this addition to their nursing program."

Officials at St. Vincent's HealthCare are equally enthused. "Highly trained nurses are essential in delivering quality, compassionate care," said David Meyer, System Vice President of Strategic Planning and Marketing for St. Vincent's HealthCare. "The comprehensive B.S.N. program demonstrates St. Johns River State College's commitment to providing nursing students the opportunity to graduate with a high level of training and knowledge, which in turn will improve patient care in Clay County and help address the critical nursing shortage for our future leaders in the nursing field."

SJR State nursing student Jean Zimmerly said having access to a local program means a more desirable transition. "One of the things I love most about the current A.S.N. program is the instructors. They do more than just teach us. They really care about us and our success," Zimmerly said. "That's why I'm so excited SJR State will offer the B.S.N. program. For us, this is home. We already know the instructors, we already know the hospitals. I think we have one the best facilities for learning, where they provide us with real-life situations. You can't get a better education than that."

Lebesch added that the trend in the nursing field is gravitating toward requiring more B.S.N.s and the College is being prudent in proposing the program. "Studies and discussions have indicated that hospitals in our service district require a B.S.N. for advancement and are asking A.S.N. graduates to complete a B.S.N. program within three years of hire," Lebesch said.

Conversations with the local chambers of commerce indicate they anticipate growth in the health care industry and support SJR State's efforts to begin the program. "Local access to the degree would help fill a gap in a growing demand for B.S.N.s," Lebesch said.

Lebesch said a report published last year by the Institute of Medicine called for increasing the number of nurses in the national workforce who have at least a baccalaureate degree to 80% by 2020. The current figure is 50%.

The College introduced its first two bachelor's degrees programs - Early Childhood Education and Organizational Management - to students in January 2011.

PHOTO CAPTION: SJR State nursing students Tracey Smith (right) and Alix Baker demonstrate their practical nursing skills at the College's state-of-the-art nursing facility..

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Susan Kessler
SJR State Director of Public Relations and Publications
5001 St. Johns Avenue
Palatka, FL 32177
(386) 312-4020