Nursing the numbers

UW-Green Bay and NWTC launch NURSE 1-2-1 degree program

Posted on Oct 3, 2016 :: Up Front
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Sometimes it takes an uncommon approach to solve an all-too-common challenge.

The problem is a nursing shortage, which is expected to exceed nearly 1 million nurses nationally by 2022. While colleges and technical schools have ramped up programs and faculty, Wisconsin will still need to increase its nursing workforce 24 percent by 2020, according to a 2014 research brief sponsored by the Wisconsin Center for Nursing. It’s not only a numbers issue, as health care and government regulations are demanding nurses with higher levels of education.

With the traditional solutions not resolving the problem quickly enough, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College have initiated a new model to produce more nurses with higher education levels and sequence it in a path more affordable for students.

“This program represents a new way of thinking about how to address a community issue like the nursing shortage both here in Wisconsin and nationwide,” says Susan Gallagher-Lepak, dean of UW-Green Bay’s College of Health, Education and Social Welfare. “Both institutions are excited about how quickly we’ve been able to mobilize this solution and what it means for the nursing workforce and health care overall in our region.”

The program, called NURSE 1-2-1, launched this fall with an initial class of 24 students. Once enrolled in the program, nursing students attend classes the first year at UW-Green Bay, then switch to NWTC for years two and three, earning their associate’s degree in the process. At this point, they can return to the UW-Green Bay campus to earn their bachelor’s degree in nursing, or enter the workforce and complete that degree online, also through UW-Green Bay.

In the end, the students get both the traditional campus-like college experience, and flexibility to enter the workforce, begin caring for patients and earning an income

while completing their degree.

“Students receiving their BSN through the program can expect to invest 50 percent less in tuition than their peers attending a traditional four-year BSN program,” says Kay Tupala, dean at NWTC and a co-creator of the program. “We’re bringing together teaching excellence and affordability in a way that hasn’t been done before and it’s very exciting for students and the community.”

Recent projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that 525,000 registered nurses will leave the profession between 2012 and 2022 and that the national RN workforce will need to expand from 2.71 million to 3.24 million during the same period. Additionally, a rash of retirements is expected in the registered nursing profession during the next 10 years — the current average age of a registered nurse is 47 and roughly one-third of registered nurses are age 50 or older.

At the same time, demand for health care is expected to continue to increase, as provisions in the Affordable Care Act are enabling more people to access health care at the same time the aging of the baby boomer generation is creating a large elderly cohort with attendant health care needs.

Finally, the nursing shortage is happening at the same time the Institute of Medicine has recommended increasing the level of workforce preparedness for nurses.

“The Institute has been recommending an 80 percent BSN-prepared workforce in nursing across the U.S., given research that shows health care outcomes for patients improve when the nursing workforce is educated at the BSN level,” Gallagher-Lepak says. “Health care organizations are following the Institute’s guidance and are looking to hire more nursing graduates with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Put simply, we need more BSNs.”

In 2013 the Health Resources Services Association reported that 55 percent of all RNs in the U.S. held a baccalaureate in nursing degree or higher. 

In addition to Gallagher-Lepak and Tupala, the planning committee for the new program included Jennifer Schwahn and Jan Malchow, UW-Green Bay; and Brian Krogh and Katie Gilson, NWTC.