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UW's BRAND Program is Win-Win for Graduates, State

May 18, 2009

While attending the University of Wyoming's commencement May 9, Eli Thornton picked up on a common theme among Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) graduates.

"I heard a lot of people talking about relocating to Colorado or someplace else to begin their careers," Thornton recalls, "and I thought, ‘That's a shame.'"

The university's Bachelors Reach for Accelerated Nursing Degree (BRAND) program is committed to changing that theme.

An accelerated BSN program for students who have earned a previous non-nursing baccalaureate degree but decided to change careers and become a registered nurse, BRAND offers a win-win for its graduates, who can benefit from the program's generous loan repayment plan, and the state's healthcare industry, which desperately needs skilled and qualified nurses to work in hospitals from Jackson to Lander to Lusk.

"This program, from a simple workforce standpoint, is absolutely critical," says Mary Burman, dean of UW's Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing. "The other key piece, and we know this from various research that's been conducted in the past few years, is that the more RNs you have in a hospital, the better the care and the better the outcomes.

"And, let me tell you, the BRAND students are top-notch people, they really are. They are mature, they have a strong work ethic, they're experienced, they're bright. They're going to be leaders. In 10 years, they're going to be chief nursing officers in hospitals or coming back to school to teach or they're going to be leaders in setting nursing policies."

After three pilot groups, BRAND welcomed its first cohort of 20 students -- including Thornton -- in May 2008. The second cohort, of 30 students, began Monday -- about eight weeks after Sen. Mike Massie, D-Laramie, successfully sponsored a legislative bill that re-appropriated $250,000 of general funds from the Wyoming Investment in Nursing program to pay for loans for up to six students per cohort.

The UW Board of Trustees approved the re-allocation of funds earlier this month.

"I can't thank the legislature enough for its support, and I hope they will continue to support it in the future," says Christina Marchant of Lander, a member of BRAND's second cohort. "We all know there's a nationwide nursing shortage and BRAND will help address that problem in Wyoming. It's just a win-win for everybody."

The need for nurses is dire across the United States -- and particularly in the Wyoming, where the state's rapidly aging population is all but certain to require greater care into the future. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the U.S. is currently short by some 116,000 nurses, with a deficit of up to 500,000 expected by 2025.

The statistics are potentially more acute in the Cowboy State. According to a 2008 report by the Wyoming Department of Employment's Research & Planning Section, Wyoming will need 3,307 more nurses by 2014 than were employed in 2006 to meet projected demand, making the success of the BRAND program paramount to the continuing welfare of the state's residents.

In addition to providing qualified nurses, BRAND helps alleviate another factor that typically works against Wyoming: Most people don't seek to move here.

"It is tough to recruit to Wyoming and we were losing a lot of nurses before this program started to help us," says Linda Simmons, chief nursing officer and vice president of operations at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County in Rock Springs. "In the last two years, we have hired three BRAND graduates and the staff here just loves them! They see a real difference in those graduates, because they know they want to be here and that they're committed to their jobs. They're all exceptionally bright and they've jumped right in and done a great job."

Simmons adds, "We have two more BRAND students who are coming to be summer interns this year and we could hire both of them, too."

There's great incentive for BRAND graduates to stay in Wyoming, too. If a graduate of the program works as a registered nurse in Wyoming for two years following graduation, BRAND's repayment plan forgives the graduate's loan -- in full.

"That," says Carrie Deselms, BRAND coordinator and an associate lecturer in the Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing, "is quite a deal in this day and age."

Thornton also touted the repayment program, noting that most hospitals in his home state of Colorado have cut tuition reimbursement programs, slashed benefits for nurses and eliminated signing bonuses.

"And, yet, those opportunities are still available to new graduates in Wyoming," says Thornton, who hopes to go to work at Star Valley Medical Center in Afton following graduation. "That's why the BRAND program is so wonderful for the state of Wyoming. It's not only keeping UW graduates in Wyoming but it's addressing the need for baccalaureate nurses who will positively impact the level of healthcare in Wyoming for years to come."

Ronda Kinsey, a clinical nurse specialist at Wyoming Medical Center in Casper who has worked in nursing for 36 years, believes BRAND graduates will do more than provide quality care to patients.

She believes they'll help change the face of the nursing profession in the Cowboy State.

"Nursing is incredibly complex," says Kinsey, who co-supervised 11 BRAND students during their clinical practice last year. "The knowledge that is needed is more extensive now than ever before and it changes all the time. You not only need to know what you know now, you need to be able to quickly learn new things, adapt to change and be able to think on your feet.

"The BRAND students are going to be able to do that like nobody else because they are truly the cream of the crop. They are going to be awesome nurses, I have no doubt about that."

Posted on Monday, May 18, 2009

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