RN to BSN: Connecting the Countryside to the Metro while Moving Nursing Forward

A UMKC RN-BSN student employed in a Kansas City hospital, a UMKC RN-BSN student employed in a rural Kansas hospital, and a UMKC RN-BSN student employed in rural Missouri work as a collaborative team to develop education materials for a downtown Kansas City hospital.

This is just one example of student peer connections and extraordinary student accomplishments that have become a hallmark of UMKC’s RN-BSN program over the decades. The program enables ADN registered nurses throughout the U.S. to earn their BSN degree, which can lead to expanded career and graduate academic opportunities.

For Program Director Anita Skarbek, PhD, RN, the faculty-to-student and student-to-student collaborative nature of the program is a driving force that enhances student-learning outcomes regarding real-life patient health care needs and issues. “Our RN-BSN program strives to foster student connectedness, and not only while students are in our program,” said Skarbek. “We want them to continue these professional relationships well beyond graduation.”

Although UMKC’s national RN-BSN program is completely online, students have ample opportunity to interact with one another and faculty through weekly class assignments, as well as innovative clinical practice experiences. Since the students are all registered nurses, faculty encourage students to bring their individual professional perspectives and experiences as urban, suburban or rural nurses to the work they do throughout the program.

According to Skarbek, integrating personal professional perspectives and experiential knowledge is beneficial to all the students in the program, and especially to nurses working in a rural setting, says Skarbek since as our students have discovered, many rural institutions lack having access to resources that are often afforded to larger, urban-serving institutions. And while UMKC prides itself in serving as a student-centered urban university, the online nature of the RN-BSN program allows the school to reach beyond. For example, one-third of the students enrolled in the program either work and/or live in rural communities.

Acquiring professional role development through my RN-BSN studies was a critical component to RN-BSN alumnus Kimberly Slaughter, who works in Cameron, Missouri. “I wanted to bring that knowledge-based learning back to my rural community because the classes make you evaluate your own hospital’s policies and procedures” said Slaughter. “The classwork opens your eyes and makes you ask, “Are we doing the most for our patients?”

The RN-BSN program has a long history of out-reaching to rural nurses. In 2010, the program was one of three universities in the nation to be awarded a $1.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop UMKC’s RN-BSN Rural Nursing Initiative. Skarbek says that is how the school showcased the program’s innovative technology that enables shared learning opportunities to rural students. The program was also awarded a $345,000 Nursing Workforce Diversity Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for 2016-2017, which supported rural nursing outreach, as well.

Skarbek also views peer mentoring as an important aspect of the program – one that serves a critical need for the nursing profession. “Our faculty encourage students to answer each other’s questions through the weekly classroom based discussion-board forums and through peer-review processes of assignment submissions. Peer discussion provides opportunities to students to not only engage and learn from one another and form lasting relationships, but also helps students to develop mastery regarding the topic under discussion.”

For alumnus Gary Hicks, a RN working in a Kansas City-area hospital, “Peer discussions and peer review help develop a kinship among classmates, while offering a glimpse into how other hospitals address patient care-delivery challenges.  All hospitals, for example, strive to eliminate catheter-associated infections and central line infections. In one of the RN-BSN classes, students reviewed case studies on these topics and critically analyzed research studies to reflect on and evaluate existing best practices to address these issues. While I was discussing these infection issues with one of my classmates who was working at a rural hospital in Kansas, I discovered that his hospital had implemented different safety interventions that I was able to take back to my own hospital as a point of discussion.”

Hicks is also grateful for the team-building experiences acquired through UMKC’s RN-BSN program. “My experience at UMKC has really boosted my confidence in working with my existing team at the hospital. UMKC’s RN-BSN program presents timely, real-life health care issues to the classroom setting, and is a program that I highly recommend to ADN RNs who wish to pursue their BSN degree.”