SPSCC nursing program ready for applicants

lpemberton@theolympian.comMarch 26, 2014 

Nursing students Tanya Porter (left) and Kendra Steadman practice patient procedures in July 2013 during Nursing Professor Jillian Heist's lab session at South Puget Sound Community College. (The Olympian, Steve Bloom file)

STEVE BLOOM — Staff photographer Buy Photo

After years of chronic problems, South Puget Sound Community College’s registered nursing program is showing signs of recovery.

In fact, the program will begin accepting applications on Tuesday for next school year.

“We’ll just be moving the program into the 21st century,” said Laurie Choate, the Olympia-based college’s newly hired associate dean of nursing.

Last summer, after losing national accreditation — which is not a requirement for a nursing program in the state, but is essentially a stamp of approval that makes graduates more employable — SPSCC refunded application fees and opted not to admit new students for the program for the 2013-14 school year.

Instead, officials have spent the last six months redesigning SPSCC’s associate degree in nursing, which prepares graduates to become registered nurses, according to college spokeswoman Kellie Purce Braseth.

Major changes include:

 • A program that’s centered on new technology and practices in the field, as well as health care reform changes that have affected the nursing profession.

The old program focused more on the traditional and clinical side of nursing that was meant to prepare graduates for jobs in hospitals, Choate said.

The new program will still prepare students for clinic work, but they’ll also be better trained for jobs in home health, hospice, occupational nursing and other areas that are in higher demand, she said.

“The trend in health care is, ‘How can we keep people from returning to the hospital after they go home?’” Choate said. “… A lot of our nursing graduates are getting jobs outside of hospitals, so we just need to prepare them for those kinds of opportunities.”

 • The hiring of Choate, dean of nursing and allied health at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Ore.

She replaced Lois Anderson, who retired last summer.

Choate , a graduate of the University of Washington, spent the past six months working part time as a contractor for SPSCC while she finished up at Clatsop.

She will begin her new job Tuesday, and she said she’s excited about helping reshape the nursing program.

“It’s kind of a dream to design a program from scratch and address any issues they’ve had in the past,” Choate said.

 • More ways to track student progress in the program, Purce Braseth said.

The new data also will help officials determine improvement areas for the program, she said.

“By staying current with the trends and realities of the nursing industry and folding that data into the decisions about the program improvement, the program will be more responsive to both students and the industry,” Purce Braseth said.

 • A lottery system that determines which applicants get into the program.

In order to qualify for the lottery, students must earn a certain grade-point average in prerequisite classes.

“In the (former) point system, extra weight was given to a student’s grade-point average,” she said. “This encouraged students to spend more money and time retaking classes to improve their GPA to get into the program, trying to turn an A minus into an A. And the evidence showed that GPA was not necessarily a good predictor of success in the program.”

 • Curriculum that’s been crafted to meet the requirements of the state’s new direct transfer agreement for nursing programs.

Students who complete their associate degree in nursing and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) can enter four-year universities as seniors rather than juniors to trim up to a year off the bachelor’s in nursing degree.

“We’re finding that more and more health care employers are requiring bachelor’s degrees,” said Michelle Andreas, SPSCC vice president for instruction. “This agreement will help meet those needs and give registered nurses a greater chance at career advancement.”

 • The groundwork to help stabilize the program and get its credentials back.

SPSCC’s nursing program has been on conditional approval by the state for two years.

The program has struggled in the past to keep up with the latest technology that employers want nurses trained in, college officials said. In addition, fewer SPSCC graduates passed the NCLEX-RN than the state required for its programs. (The college has boosted those pass rates in recent years.)

Choate said officials want to work toward getting full approval by the state for the program.

After that happens, they will seek national accreditation again, she said.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com @Lisa_Pemberton

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