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Colleges offer weekend programs to help busy adults reach goal of becoming an RN

Monday October 14, 2013
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Sarah Romero always dreamed of becoming a nurse.

But in those dreams it was never the ICU that served as the backdrop. Yet, just weeks from graduation and eventual employment as a full-time RN, Romero finds herself leaning more and more in that direction.

“I didn’t think I’d be drawn to the hustle and bustle, or the drama and intensity,” Romero said. “But I really like the ICU and ER, and I think NICU is where I’d like to end up.”

But if not for a new program offered at her school, McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, Ill., Romero’s dreams might have remained difficult to attain, if not out of reach.

Romero, 38, of Lake in the Hills, Ill., had dedicated most of her adult life to one goal, which was raising her two daughters.

After marrying relatively young, Romero had set aside her nursing aspirations, as she skipped college and stayed home to be a mom. But about three years ago, as her girls both advanced into middle and high school, Romero decided that now would be as good a time as any to jump in and pursue a nursing degree.

However, Romero needed to make sure she could still be mom — at least on weekdays, when her husband needed to work. So when Romero learned of MCC’s new weekend nursing education program, she jumped at the chance, becoming one of the first students to pursue a degree without setting foot on campus Monday to Thursday.

Launched two years ago, the two-year program at the community college offers nursing students an alternative to traditional Monday-Friday nursing school.

Angela Sass, RN, MS, interim director of nursing and an instructor at the college, said the program is simple in concept.

Students attend classes and lectures on Fridays. On Saturdays and Sundays, they head to hospitals in the region to gain the real-world nursing experience through practicum.

The program offered several challenges. Foremost on the list was finding hospitals in which the students can practice.

Sass noted that many local hospitals already had their practicum schedules full. That meant, for the weekend program, MCC needed to look further, at hospitals in the Rockford area, as well as Chicago’s far northwest suburbs.

The school also needed to find instructors who are available to work with nurses on the weekends.

But Sass said the weekend program has overcome the challenges, and gained a solid footing, as the school prepares to graduate its first cohort of 11 weekend nursing students in January.

About 80 students are enrolled in MCC’s nursing program, Sass said.

The flexibility offered by the compressed classroom and practicum schedule has helped the college reach out particularly to working parents, who in more traditional nursing education regimens might have been forced to choose between the full-time jobs they need to support their families and their nursing aspirations.

Sass said MCC, which launched its entire nursing education program just four years ago, had consistently fielded questions from prospective nursing students concerned over the choice.

“They were constantly expressing that conflict,” Sass said. “They’d say, ‘I need to work. So how can I go to school?’

“So we felt we were meeting a need.”

That need and the resulting demand has spurred the creation of similar programs at other nursing schools, as well, both for nursing students yet to be licensed and those pursuing a baccalaureate.

At Resurrection University in Chicago, the nursing school has offered such a nontraditional program since 2008, said university president Beth Brooks, RN, PhD, FACHE.

“In the last 10 to 15 years, the nursing profession has gotten more creative as we have noticed that the traditional schedule just doesn’t work in everyone’s life,” Brooks said.

She said that “creativity” in scheduling has helped nursing schools attract a broader demographic of students, particularly adults who are seeking to transition to nursing from a different career, and male students.

At Resurrection, Brooks said, men make up about 14% of the student population and that number continues to grow.

Just as at MCC, Brooks said her school has customized the program to meet the challenges of a compressed schedule.

“Right now, though, we are one of just a few evening and weekend programs in the Chicago area,” Brooks said.

She said the program has proven popular, with “about 30 students in the class pretty much the entire time we’ve offered it."

At Chamberlain College of Nursing, that system’s Cleveland campus has launched a pilot three-year nontraditional BSN program specifically targeted at working adults whose life and schedule would otherwise preclude them from attending class on weekdays.

“We’re filling a niche in the community that hasn’t been filled before,” said Adele Webb, RN, PhD, DPNAP, FAAN, president of the Chamberlain Cleveland campus.

Webb also noted that the program could be just the first of its kind within the Chamberlain system.

“The other campuses are watching us,” Webb said.

To continue increasing the number of students such as Romero, the growth of such programs could be key.

“Could I have done the weekday program? I suppose I could have,” Romero said. “But the weekend program has made it so much easier to still be mom, while I still fulfill my dream.”


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