Nursing community poised to improve care in Wyoming

Guest column by Jennifer Anderson, Mary E. Burman, and Deb Gaspar
— May 6, 2014

Nurses are the backbone of health care in the state of Wyoming. The Institute of Medicine, in a report published in 2011 on the future of nursing, recommends that 80 percent of registered nurses (RNs) have a baccalaureate degree (or higher) by the year 2020. Why? A number of recent studies show that as the number of RNs with a baccalaureate degree increases in hospitals, the rate of patient complications go down. For example, a recent study by Linda Aiken, Ph.D., from the University of Pennsylvania [published in the March 2013 issue of Health Affairs] “found that a ten-point increase in the percentage of nurses holding a baccalaureate degree in nursing within a hospital was associated with an average reduction of 2.12 deaths for every 1,000 patients.”

In Wyoming, about 35 percent to 40 percent of our registered nurses have a baccalaureate degree. What are nurses doing about this? We are fortunate in Wyoming. We have a strong community college system. Six of the seven community colleges have had well-established and high-quality nursing programs for many years that offer students an associate degree in nursing. Moreover, Wyoming has one university that has offered a variety of baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs for many years. Collaboration among the community college nursing programs and the University of Wyoming (UW) Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing has increased dramatically over the last decade in order to facilitate baccalaureate education for nurses with an associate degree in nursing.

The nursing community is poised to take this collaboration to the next and very exciting level. “Revolutionizing Nursing Education in Wyoming” (ReNEW) is a statewide initiative with the aim of creating a shared nursing curriculum. Such a curriculum would enable a student to start at any community college and finish up a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree at UW through a seamless process. UW and all seven community colleges are committed to and actively engaged in the initiative. Moreover, ReNEW has engaged nurses from hospitals, long-term care facilities and public health offices from across the state to help us advance nursing education in the state.

Several different committees have been hard at work for the last two years to accomplish the mission of ReNEW, which is to enhance the quality of nursing and health care in Wyoming by revolutionizing nursing education:

The Curriculum Committee has just released their proposal for the ReNEW curriculum, linking the community colleges to UW.

The Clinical Education Committee is exploring ways to develop more efficient and effective partnerships between nursing programs and clinical facilities for optimal clinical education for nursing students.

The Professional Development Committee has offered an annual Nursing Education Summit to help nurses and nurse educators learn about the very latest in educational approaches.

The Student Support Services Committee is looking at ways to ensure that admission, advising and financial aid processes are aligned between the community colleges and UW.

ReNEW is a model for how community colleges and the University of Wyoming can take collaboration to an even higher level. Moreover, the potential impact of ReNEW on Wyoming residents and communities is significant, with enhanced quality of nursing and health care.

— Jennifer Anderson is Director, Nursing Department, Laramie County Community College; Mary E. Burman is Dean and Professor, Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing, University of Wyoming; Deb Gaspar is Chief Nursing Officer, Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County.

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  1. Having this credential would have an obvious and beneficial impact on nurses’ careers and this effort is worth pursuing simply for that reason. I’m also curious to know what impact the Baccalaureate degree has on the provision of services. Are nurses with baccalaureate degrees more skilled, or do they simply have more schooling?