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Four-year nursing degrees to begin in the fall of 2014 at Penn State Mont Alto

April 12, 2013|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com

MONT ALTO, Pa. — Penn State Mont Alto will change its nursing program from a two-year degree to a four-year degree beginning in the fall of 2014.

“Hospitals are changing their employment pattern. They aren’t hiring associate degree nurses like they had in the past. They are looking for the entry-level professional, which is the bachelor’s degree,” said Carranda Barkdoll, Penn State Mont Alto’s coordinator for nursing.

As the health care delivery system increases in complexity, more education is needed to support the nurses who must navigate it, Barkdoll said.

In October 2010, the Institute of Medicine released its report on the future of nursing, which called for “increasing the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses in the workforce to 80 percent and doubling the population of nurses with doctoral degrees.”

Based on the report and changes in the health care community and with the endorsement of the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing, the university made the decision to change from the associate degree to the bachelor’s degree in nursing, she said.

In the fall of 2014, Penn State Mont Alto will accept its last class of associate degree-seeking nursing students as well as its first class of bachelor’s degree-seeking nursing students, Barkdoll said.

“We will continue with the bachelor’s degree in nursing after the fall of 2014, but not with the associate’s after 2014,” Barkdoll said. “The class of 2016 will be the last class of associate’s degree nursing students to graduate from Penn State Mont Alto.”

While the two-year associate degree is appealing, it’s not a realistic degree for today’s health care field, Barkdoll said.

“It (the four-year bachelor’s degree) is going to make employment easier for them,” she said.

Some of the changes in health care come on the heels of the Affordable Healthcare Act, Barkdoll said. Other nursing recommendations come from the 2010 Institute of Medicine meeting.

“As an educational provider, we’re recognizing that the health care workforce is changing,” Barkdoll said. “If I have a nurse who has a bachelor’s degree, and I have a nurse who has their associate’s degree and they interview at the same time, the bachelor’s-prepared nurse is going to be looked at more favorably than the associate’s degree nurse.”

Sherri Stahl, senior vice president of hospital services for Summit Health, supported Penn State Mont Alto’s change to a four-year degree.

“Speaking from an acute-care hospital perspective, we are witnessing our patients and families presenting to us with more complex needs,” Stahl said. “As the nurse who partners with the patient and care team to deliver care, a higher level of education and preparedness is essential.”

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the Unites States is facing a nursing shortage that is expected to intensify as baby boomers age and the need for health care grows.

Stahl said there will continue to be a demand for health care workers.

“There will also be a greater demand for more advanced care for conditions associated with aging,” Stahl said. “This is going to require a large number of nurses available and trained to care for complex medical conditions using advanced technology.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Predictions 2010-2020, the registered nursing workforce is the top occupation in terms of job growth through 2020.

“It is expected that the number of employed nurses will grow from 2.74 million in 2010 to 3.45 million in 2020, an increase of 710,000 or 26 percent,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Predictions website.

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