Master's Entry Program in Nursing attracts motivated students to Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing

As more people seek health care amid a documented nursing shortage, the opportunity for skilled nurses grows in California and across the country. The Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis prepares a new breed of graduates who are nimble enough to become agents of change in this new age of health care. For those individuals who have already earned an undergraduate degree and yearn to do something more both educationally and professionally, the School of Nursing programs go beyond the traditional and challenge students to rethink conventional wisdom to advance health, improve quality of care and inform health policy.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for more than 580,000 new and replacement nurses by the year 2018, prompting nursing schools to explore creative ways to increase capacity and reach out to new kinds of prospective students. Yet, not all schools and all nursing education programs are created equally.

Health care organizations have a greater need than ever before for nurse leaders with additional education to serve in leadership and primary care roles.

“With health care focus shifting from hospital care to increasing health at home and in our communities, today’s nursing students will work in settings of the future with the support, rather than distraction, of advanced technologies,” explained Debbie Ward, associate dean for academics. “We all have a vested interest in advancing the roles of all health care professionals, so they can work at the top of their skill sets.”

An innovative approach to nursing education that is gaining momentum nationwide is the accelerated degree program for non-nursing undergraduates. Programs like the Master’s Entry Program in Nursing draw from applicants who have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field, build on their previous learning experiences and transition them into the nursing profession.

“When someone commits to graduate school, it is often because they are clear in their goals, serious about their commitments and motivated to perform their best,” said Theresa Harvath, director for clinical education who leads the new master’s program at the School of Nursing. “Those attracted to this program also believe a master's degree will offer more professional opportunities than a second bachelor’s degree.”

As health care and the skill sets required to care for people evolve, health care organizations are calling upon nurse leaders to increase their education to be on par with other health care providers. Like their medical school counterparts, nurses in a master’s program also hold undergraduate degrees while being enrolled in a professional degree program. Graduate nursing and medical-school students are also closer in age than undergraduate nursing students who, at many schools, are younger and have limited life experience.

Though not new to nursing education, accelerated programs have proliferated over the past 15 years. Researchers who have studied the trend suggest personal experience, coupled with a desire to help others, motivates a majority of students to pursue a second degree in nursing. Whether they desire to look past procedures and focus on people, hunger for more knowledge or recognize the personal nature of nursing as compared to their current profession, these students crave more.

“Sometimes they are individuals who are frustrated with the current state of the health care system and believe that by entering into the profession with a master’s degree, they can find ways to improve the experience for individuals, their families and communities,” added Harvath.

Faculty at the School of Nursing value the experiences, knowledge and abilities these students bring to their studies. Educators also recognize the days of students being passive note-takers and regurgitators of facts are over. Subsequently, professors embrace learning spaces to engage graduate students who are visually oriented, self-directed and rely on technology to connect with people. The school sets a new paradigm for how students engage with their professors, fellow students and the classroom environment that surrounds them.

“Adults learn best when they are actively engaged and pursuing lines of inquiry that they generate themselves,” said Debra Bakerjian, senior director for the School of Nursing’s nurse practitioner and physician assistant clinical programs. “We are moving from the traditional model of faculty being a ‘sage on the stage’ to an environment where educators are the ‘guide on the side.’”

In coming months, the School of Nursing continues to navigate the regulatory channels to formalize the new Master’s Entry Program in Nursing Degree Program and to hire professors who can contribute to the expertise and diversity of the faculty. Ultimately, graduates of this program will achieve their personal goals of academic and leadership advancement that improves health care for communities in Northern California and beyond.