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Partnership Strengthens Healthcare for Rural Community

Despite the overwhelming hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a south central Iowa community is thriving, thanks to a unique opportunity. Since the beginning of 2022, 36 nurses have had the opportunity to elevate their careers with full scholarships for RN to BSN bachelor’s degrees in nursing from Bellevue University.

The university has closely partnered with Indian Hills Community College (IHCC) and local healthcare facilities to help the region overcome the impacts of COVID-19 while also helping motivated students achieve their dreams.

Schools Partner to Meet More Student Needs

Since 2016, Bellevue University has partnered with IHCC to help students continue their studies after earning associate’s degrees. A Bellevue University Relationship Manager is located on site at IHCC to help students experience a smooth transition.

IHCC is located approximately 3.5 hours away from the Bellevue University campus, and 90 minutes each from major hubs Des Moines and Iowa City. “We serve 10 counties, with about 136,000 people in the area,” said IHCC President Matt Thompson.

Some of the most popular programs for IHCC students are diesel, robotics and general education. However, feeder programs like health sciences, education and cybersecurity provide opportunities to complete a bachelor’s degree at Bellevue University while working, Thompson said.

“Bellevue University has been an institution that really looks to meet the needs of students,” he continued. “They are accommodating to adults who may be raising a family, and provide great service and flexibility for our students. Being in lockstep with Bellevue University helps our students have an even better experience and helps us attract more students.”

Bellevue University Puts Students First in Hard Times

Since its founding in 1966, Bellevue University has sought out opportunities to make a tangible difference for working adults and their communities. Effectively achieving this goal also means addressing changing needs within specific industries.

In healthcare, the nursing shortage could not be ignored. According to a study by The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, 92% of nurses surveyed said they believe the pandemic has depleted nurses at their hospitals. “With the healthcare shortage, Bellevue University was trying to help,” said Lisa Fritz, Bellevue University Key Account Manager who worked with IHCC. 

A focus on student support is built into Bellevue University’s career-relevant educational offerings. According to RN to BSN Program Director Dr. Kimberley Meisinger, “we meet students where they’re at, so they can create the experience they need to have. Doing practicums in their local communities makes it more personal for the students, as well as benefits the organizations and the communities.”

Providing full scholarships for the RN to BSN program using grant funds was the solution. To be accepted, a student must hold a current nursing license and work as an RN. The program provides a unique opportunity for students to complete their degrees online while continuing to serve local patients.

“This is an unbelievable opportunity for IHCC students to take advantage of while starting their careers or working,” Thompson said.

Motivated Nurses Jump at the Opportunity

An associate’s degree empowers nurses to work in a clinical setting, but that’s just the beginning, said IHCC Department Chair for Nursing Dixie Holden. “Obtaining a bachelor's degree in nursing opens many doors for our students,” she said. “To advance in their career, or obtain a supervisory position in nursing, students really need a BSN.”

The first RN to BSN class under this initiative began in January 2022, and word spread like wildfire. In response, Bellevue University added two more start dates: one class began in March, and another group began in June. The degree takes 18 months to complete.

“A lot of them had given up on the dream of getting a BSN. They were in tears,” Fritz said.

The program has attracted nurses with varying experience, from newly graduated to those with decades of experience. The students represent several healthcare facilities, with 13 from MercyOne Centerville Medical Center, eight from Ottumwa Regional Health Center, six from Scotland County Hospital in Missouri, and nine from other facilities.

“With today's more complicated healthcare systems, and with nurses doing more and more with patients at the bedside, we need nurses who are heavily trained to deal with any situation that may arise,” Holden said.

“Returning to school for an advanced degree is something we have encouraged with our staff,” said MercyOne Centerville Vice President of Patient Services, Sherri Doggett.   “When the full scholarship for a BSN was introduced through Bellevue University, staff were encouraged to consider and take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They were excited and began the application process immediately.”

Dr. Kimberley Meisinger, Program Director RN to BSN Program

We meet students where they’re at, so they can create the experience they need to have. Doing practicums in their local communities makes it more personal for the students, as well as benefits the organizations and the communities."

Dr. Kimberley Meisinger, Program Director RN to BSN Program

Nurses Grow Through Online Opportunity

With the variable hours nurses work, and also juggling families and personal lives, Fritz said the online BSN program is a great option. “They take one class at a time. This gives them that flexibility they need,” she said. “They’ve told me it takes discipline, but it’s manageable.”

For Mariah Clawson, a 2017 IHCC graduate who works at MercyOne Centerville, the Bellevue University scholarship helped her achieve a goal she wanted to pursue but found difficult.   

“The cost and workload seemed unrealistic with my life and schedule,” she said. “When I heard about Bellevue University offering this, I knew I had to take advantage of it.”

2011 IHCC graduate Tonya Small, an RN at Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, MO, faced similar setbacks in pursuing her BSN. “It has been a personal goal of mine for many years. I just never thought I had the time or finances to make it happen,” she said.

Small is already learning skills she can apply to her career. “It is helping me hone in on the skills that can set me apart from other nurses, such as leadership and management, nursing education and communication,” she said.

Hospital leaders are also seeing the impact of the program. “Work toward an advanced degree elevates and broadens the thinking of nurses. Our Bellevue University students are highly engaged in their education and I have enjoyed the opportunity to interact with them as they complete assignments,” Doggett said. “They are stretched to think at a different level and they are applying the lessons learned in their daily work.

Investment in Healthcare Builds Lasting Impact

For these 36 nurses, earning a BSN is a launching pad for continuing to grow within their careers. They will lead the next generation of nurses to continue improving care for the south central Iowa region. Plus, the future looks bright, as Bellevue University has committed to offer additional tuition grants for RN to BSN students.

“I know that if I ever want to advance to another position, I will more than likely need the tools and information that this bachelor's degree will supply me with,” Clawson said.

Small said she also hopes to show others what’s possible through her achievement. “As a first-generation college graduate, I have learned the importance of a college education,” Small said. “I want to set a good example for my two daughters that getting an education can open many opportunities.”

There is no doubt that this program and opportunity is changing lives. Doggett noted, “this was the little push these nurses needed and it is having a big impact on the care provided to our patients. We are so grateful for this opportunity.”   

With the help of Bellevue University and IHCC, and the support of their healthcare facilities, these nurses will be making big strides for patients – now and for years to come.

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