By Linda Lockhart
The first graduates of a new LPN-to-RN collaborative nursing program involving Ohio University-Southern and Collins Career Center in Lawrence County earned, as a class, a 93 percent pass rate on their recent state licensing exam, exceeding both the national and state averages of just over 86 percent.
The key to the collaborative program is that it accommodates the schedules of working LPNs so they can continue to hold nursing positions while taking classes toward their associate's degrees. Classes are delivered online with limited in-person campus visits. Students also are required to spend one day each week in clinical training, but those sessions are coordinated with the working LPNs' schedules and geographic locations, said Debbie Meehan, former associate director of nursing at Ohio University-Southern, who helped to initiate the program.
Amy Kimbler was one of first 15 students who completed the one-year program at the end of fall quarter and took her licensing exam in January. Now she's getting ready for a new job working with school nurses.
"It was hard having a family and a job and going to school," said Kimbler, who has two young children. "There was one quarter when we started clinical training at 6 in the morning and didn't finish class until 10 at night."
Accommodating the needs and schedules of students such as Kimbler is a priority for the LPN-to-RN program.
"Flexibility is the name of the game," said Kay Swartzwelder, director of nursing at Collins Career Center, where more than 100 LPNs earn certification each year. Many former Collins students are expected to take advantage of the new program.
Swartzwelder, who also is on the Southern campus faculty, said most LPN-to-RN programs have more traditionally structured in-person class attendance requirements that often conflict with LPNs' work schedules.
The program resulted from popular demand. In a 2005 survey in which 330 of 350 Collins LPN graduates participated, respondents expressed strong interest in a program flexible enough to accommodate both studies and full-time work. After studying LPN-to-RN mobility program models nationwide, the collaborative concept was presented in 2006 to the Ohio Board of Regents, which provided a $25,000 planning grant to develop and market the program.
"The collaborative program has the same academic curriculum requirements and standards as our traditional associate degree in nursing program, but with added flexibility," Meehan said.
Although the program was intentionally launched with smaller classes in the first two years, the plan is to accept 30 to 35 students in coming years. Meehan and Swartzwelder encourage the students to continue their education in an RN-to-BSN program, which is offered by Ohio University in a similar online blended format.
For some LPNs, the collaborative program was the solution they'd been seeking. Student Kristen Conley said she had wanted to become an RN and "just kept waiting for the right program."
Kimbler echoed that sentiment. When she originally heard about the program, she was told all of the seats were filled. "I convinced them to let me in," she said.
Her persistence paid off. During last fall's pinning ceremony, she was named the class' Outstanding Student Nurse, prompting a cheer from her young daughter in the audience.
"I would have never gone back to school if it wasn't for this program," Kimbler said. "When you're working so hard to get through it you wonder if you'll make it. But in the end, it was worth all the hard work."
To speak with a media consultant regarding this story, please contact Outreach and Regional Campuses Writer/Editor Linda Lockhart at 740-597-2938 or firstname.lastname@example.org.