Utah State nursing program

Students in Utah State's nursing program work together on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, at the Utah State campus in Logan.

LOGAN -- Registered nurses now have another option to advance their education and earn a bachelor's degree.

Utah State started accepting applications for an online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program for registered nurses starting in fall 2020. The program was launched to meet the needs of Utah State RN graduates in rural areas, said Carma Miller, nursing department head at Utah State, though the program is open to all qualified RNs, she said.

Utah State has RN programs in Blanding, Cedar City, Moab, Price, Tooele and the Uintah Basin in addition to Logan. All nursing programs at Utah State are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, according to the university's website.

"The gap that we identified is that our USU graduates from nursing programs ... often want to stay within their own community and keep that job," Miller said, " and the hospitals want to keep them, so the gap was that they won't be able to return (to a bachelor's program)."

The RN to BSN program can be offered online because RNs have completed clinical hours, which require in-person work and more intensive faculty attention, Miller said.

Even in a traditional BSN program, courses toward the end of the degree are less hands on — like research courses and informatics, Miller said. However, for more hands-on courses, students will complete projects, like organizing a health fair or working with a local school to reduce childhood obesity.

This is work they can do in their own communities, she said, as well as in the jobs they already hold.

Higher levels of education among nurses lead to better patient outcomes, according to a study published in 2003 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In that study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that "a 10% increase in the proportion of nurses holding a bachelor's degree was associated with a 5% decrease in both the likelihood of patients dying within 30 days of admission and the odds of failure to rescue," which means failing to intervene with appropriate treatment when complications occur.

The new program will also help address the shortage of nurses nationwide. According to a report published in the Journal of Nursing Regulation in July 2017, this shortage will be exacerbated by "an accelerating rate of RN retirements," with one million registered nurses leaving the field between 2017 and 2030.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of positions for registered nurses across the country is expected to grow by 12% between 2018 and 2028. Having a bachelor's degree increases a nurse's chances of being hired, as employers — especially hospitals — sometimes require candidates to have a bachelor's degree, the BLS website says.

The growth in nursing positions in Utah is on par with national trends, Miller said.

Contact reporter Megan Olsen at molsen@standard.net or 801-625-4227. Follow her on Twitter at @MeganAOlsen.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!