Registered nurses boost career and learning through URI’s R.N.-to-B.S. program

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Nurses work while earning degrees, study at URI’s Providence campus

KINGSTON, R.I. – Sept. 25, 2014 – Gail Murray’s career has no limits. In two decades, she’s gone from working as a medical secretary to working as a registered nurse – and now she’s about to take another leap in her professional life.

The 55-year-old Smithfield resident is enrolled in a thriving program at the University of Rhode Island that allows registered nurses to obtain their bachelor’s degrees while continuing to work.

The students enrolled in URI’s program are registered nurses who have a two-year associate’s degree or a three-year hospital diploma, as well as their state nursing license. The program is especially appealing to women like Murray who want to continue working – and earning money – while studying for a bachelor’s.

“Is it hard? Yes. But it’s definitely worth every minute of my time,” says Murray. “I’m furthering my career and my knowledge in the field. My advice to anyone thinking about it is, ‘Do it. You can get it done.’ ”

R.N.-to-B.S. programs are sweeping the country as the health care industry undergoes rapid changes and registered nurses strive to strengthen their resumes – and advance patient care.

Diane Martins, coordinator for the R.N.-to-B.S. program at URI, points to a 2010 report by the Institute of Medicine recommending that 80 percent of registered nurses obtain their bachelor’s degrees by 2020. “The Future of Nursing” findings show bachelor’s degrees in nursing translate into better patient outcomes.

“Getting a bachelor’s in nursing is more important now than ever,” says Martins. “The health care industry is changing fast, so it’s crucial to stay on top of nursing developments to give patients the best care possible.”

The program is remarkable for another reason: It showcases a strong partnership between URI and Care New England hospitals where the students work, some for decades. Both the University and Care New England collaborate to accommodate the students’ busy schedules.

In many ways, Murray is a typical R.N.-to-B.S. student at URI. She’s older, working full-time and devoted to her patients. “I love what I do,” she says. “I love taking care of people.”

She started at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence as a medical records clerk in 1981. From there, she went to the billing office and, in 1989, became a secretary in the oncology unit. But she was restless and wanted more.

In 1999, she enrolled at the Community College of Rhode Island for her associate’s degree. She took one class every semester and continued to work full-time at the hospital – and raise two children. Nine years later, she had her degree.

She landed a job in the post-anesthesia surgical unit at Women & Infants, a job she still holds today. But, again, she longed for new challenges.

In January, she enrolled in URI’s R.N.-to-B.S. program with Care New England, which includes Women & Infants. During the week, she works three 12-hour shifts, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and attends classes at URI’s Alan Shawn Feinstein campus in Providence on Tuesdays, from noon to 8 p.m. “I never stop,” she says.

The instruction, she says, is excellent. Courses range from medical ethics and nursing leadership to statistics and evidence-based research. She’ll also do a clinical rotation at another hospital.

Care New England pays 75 percent of her tuition costs, and she covers the rest, which she estimates is $4,000 for the entire 21-month program. She expects to get her degree in November 2015.

“I think it’s important to show young people that even though you didn’t go to college right out of high school, you can go any time in your life,” says Murray. “You don’t have to do it all at once. In the end, you’ll see results.”

For Dawn Williams, 36, of Providence, the financial help provided by Care New England was the “driving force” behind her decision to enroll in the program. She is grateful she can continue working – in the medical surgical unit at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island in Pawtucket – while taking courses.

She also values URI’s skilled instructors and the camaraderie among students. “We’re all professional nurses and advanced learners,” says Williams, who received her nursing diploma at St. Joseph’s School of Nursing in North Providence in 2007. “We’re colleagues. We all try to support each other.”

The program is the start of what Williams expects to be a successful career in the field. After getting her bachelor’s, she hopes to pursue her master’s degree and teach nursing some day – maybe at URI.

With four children and a full-time nursing job, Amy Smith, 44, of Providence, appreciates that URI and Care New England make sure nurses can fit courses into their hectic schedules. She works at an inpatient psychiatric unit at Butler Hospital in Providence while caring for her four children.

“URI and Care New England makes this doable for us,” she says. “That’s the most important thing for me.”

For more information about the R.N.-to-B.S. program, contact Martins at 401-874-2766 or John O’Leary, director of special programs at URI’s College of Continuing Education in Providence, at 401-277-5054.

Besides Memorial Hospital, Women & Infants and Butler Hospital, Care New England hospitals are Kent County Memorial Hospital in Warwick and the Visiting Nurse Association of Care New England.

Pictured above, in pink scrubs: Gail Murray, of Smithfield, who is enrolled in the R.N.-to-B.S. program at the University of Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of Gail Murray.

Pictured above, in white scrubs: Dawn Williams, of Providence, who is enrolled in the R.N.-to-B.S. program at the University of Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of Dawn Williams.