June 15, 2001

Nursing school offers specialized service

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Nursing school offers specialized service

For at least 20 years, Patty Webber has wanted to become an advanced nurse practitioner.

As a nurse veteran of 23 years, Webber had worked as an educator, an obstetrics nurse, a hospital administrator and a director of nurses. It wasn’t until she began working in a community health facility in rural Michigan that her fate was sealed. She decided to specialize in Psychiatry.

But after searching for the right program and coming up empty handed, it appeared she would have to put her dream on hold.

Living in a rural area of Michigan, she was isolated from most academic programs. With a family to raise and a full time job, commuting was not an option.

For years, she spent her spare time surfing the Internet and contacting schools in hopes of locating a program to fit her specific needs.

Finally, she came across the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Web site highlighting a new program slated for the fall of 1999 designed for psychiatric mental health advanced practice nurses.

“I’ve been waiting on the right program for quite some time,” Webber said. “I continued looking for a long-distance option for psychiatric nurse practitioners. I found Vanderbilt and it was what I needed.

“It’s the only distance option program I found with a psychiatric specialty. The beauty of this program is that when I come on campus, it’s for blocks of time. Vanderbilt sends us CD ROMs of lectures, which is just wonderful.”

In its two years, the program is proving to be successful.

In 1999, the first year of the psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner program, enrollment was 18. Four of those were students learning at a distance. In 2000, the program’s total enrollment remained the same, but the number of students learning at a distance increased to 12.

“This program has been a real opportunity particularly for nurses who have been practicing who have full time jobs, family responsibilities and could not leave their communities to relocate and complete a graduate degree,” said Susie Adams, RN, MSN, CS, specialty director, Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing at VUSN.

“During the past five years, VUSN experienced an increased number of inquiries seeking distance-based graduate programs,” Adams said. “Many of these inquiries were from nurses who had their BSN and were practicing in the mental health field. Faculty members were challenged to create a curriculum format that could meet the needs of this subgroup.

“Utilizing this modified distance option with digital video assistance, we are able to help a group of students pursue an advanced degree in a non-traditional format who would not have been able to,” she said.

The program works in the following fashion: students attend classes in four block sessions, which typically last between three to four days each. In between these sessions, students use digital video (CDs) to view traditional class lectures.

“When designing the curriculum, we had to figure out which material was best delivered face-to-face and which was OK for lectures and accessible on CD,” she said. “ We built our block class schedule around labs and experimental learning activities that could not be readily replicated by computer-based exercises or activities.”

Another component of the program involves psychiatrists who precept the students enrolled in this program. It is their commitment to VUSN students that provides them with hands-on experience and mentoring.

“Several psychiatrists have co-led groups and worked extra hours to help our students meet course objectives,” she said. “They have made time in their busy practice schedules to mentor our students.”

Using video as a vehicle for delivery of educational content is not new to VUSN, according to Jerry Murley, director of Instructional Technology. For nearly two decades, video has been incorporated into the nursing curriculum. The school has employed an experienced cameraman as well as housed a production department to videotape nursing courses.

Videotaped lectures were available in the nursing library to offer flexibility to students who were unable to attend classes on a regular basis. Its use slowly integrated distance learning students who were able to spend blocks of time on campus.

It wasn’t until 1996 when plans for Frist Hall called for a state-of-the-art, 82-seat, multi-media classroom at the Sarah and Carl Russell classroom that digital video was introduced. By the fall of 1998, the school began testing the use of digital video as an enhancement to the traditional curriculum.

Digital video is not used in all nursing courses but is beginning to gain momentum, Murley said.

“What started as a special accommodation for a few students has become a learning resource for all students,” Murley said. “I believe we are the only school on campus using digital video for coursework on a regular basis. There is an initiative afoot to incorporate digital video throughout the campus.”

Presently, VUSN uses digital videos in four specialty curriculums – Adult Nurse Practitioner, Health Systems Management, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner and Psychiatric.

Although attending school so far away has been difficult on Webber and her family, she said the end result is worth it.

“This program has been rewarding,” she said. “I’ve grown personally and professionally. This is exciting because I am close to accomplishing my life’s goal. It has been stressful on my family, but it’s doable.

“We all talk about the fact that we will be more marketable once we complete this course. That gives people more incentive. Making the decision to attend school so far away from family was not hard, it was figuring out how to afford it and make it happen.

“I’m glad it all worked out.”

Webber will graduate in August after completing the one-year program.