April 6, 2007

VUSN program blossoms with move to online format

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(photo by Susan Urmy)

VUSN program blossoms with move to online format

Since moving to an online-only format in the fall of 2005, Vanderbilt's School of Nursing has seen participation in its Health Systems Management program nearly triple.

“We noticed that we had fewer applicants for our traditional classes in this program,” said Bonnie Pilon, D.S.N, R.N., Health Systems Management Program Director, and senior associate dean of Faculty Practice. “So we conducted nurse leader focus groups and found that we had interest from potential students outside of our region, but these same people were geographically locked in due to their careers or family responsibilities.”

“We thought an online format would make those geographic issues vanish and solve many problems for our students,” said Linda Norman, D.S.N., R.N., senior associate dean for Academics.

In VUSN's program, there are few scheduled class times, and students can log in 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The program progresses at a steady pace with students taking six to nine credits in courses that are four to seven weeks in length each semester. In six semesters of part-time study, a student can earn a Master of Science in Nursing degree with specialization in Health Systems Management.

The school's Health Systems Management faculty group converted the entire curriculum from in-class to online within 16 months. This includes 13 courses that have either been developed or re-developed for this different platform.

“While we've made the classes much more convenient for our students, our program maintains our high standards and is very rigorous,” said Pilon. “When our students finish their six semesters, they are well equipped to tackle real-life health care management challenges and complex problem solving.”

As with the traditional classroom approach, VUSN's Health Systems Management program delves deeply into regulation, consolidation, advances in technology and changes in the delivery of care in the health care industry. Students are challenged to combine their understanding of health, health care, health care delivery systems, financial management, strategic planning and human and organizational development.

The hallmarks of didactic learning methods, including student participation and classroom discussion, are still a big part of the program. Course facilitators are VUSN faculty who hold advanced degrees in health systems management, nursing administration and business. These facilitators conduct biweekly online chats with no more than 15 students per group, much like a classroom discussion might take place where content is clarified and assignment questions are answered.

In addition, the professor holds a weekly online chat with all of the students who are enrolled in the course. Students who need individualized attention are contacted by phone, and student advisement takes place by phone as well. Technical support is provided by Embanet Corp., the vendor who supports the e-learning methodology and platform on which the courses are launched.

“The convenience factor attracted me to the Vanderbilt program,” said Shelley Thibeau, R.N., a student located in New Orleans. “I was traveling a bit during some of the classes and was able to keep up using the Internet in hotels. An unexpected benefit has been meeting and learning from other colleagues around the country.”

For several years, VUSN has offered distance learning, which is a combination of online study, traditional classroom and clinical practice. The school partnered with Embanet, which specializes in Web-based education and has clients such as Boston University and George Washington University, to offer the school's first program exclusively taught online. In fall 2007, VUSN will also introduce another online-only program in Clinical Research Management.