Jan. 26, 2006- As the second class of its USVI School of Practical Nursing program started this week, the Schneider Regional Medical Center announced a new program to address the territory's chronic nursing shortage and benefit nursing students in the process.
SRMC has begun an affiliated program with Inter-American University in Puerto Rico that will give LPN graduates the option of attending Inter-American's nursing program in order to receive a Baccalaureate of Science degree.
Inter-American would provide an accelerated program that could be completed in 18 months, SRMC Board Chair June Adams said Wednesday.
"We are not fooling around," she said. "This is not being done in a haphazard way."
For years the hospital has had to depend on visiting nurses to shore up the hospital staff because of the territory's chronic nursing shortage.
"We can't afford to spend millions of dollars every year [on visiting nurses]," she said, "when we can reach across the sea to Puerto Rico and get cooperation."
Adams, who has more than 40 years of nursing experience (including 34 years at Schneider Hospital), is the driving force behind the hospital's nursing programs.
"Even though we have said ours is a practical nursing program," Adams said, "we have actually been using college texts, which means those students are being educated at a higher level. They [SRMC students] have a 15-month program; we have added lots to the curriculum."
"A professor came over from Inter-American University and looked at our text," Adams said. "She decided it was something that would work. It would be a pilot program for us, and, apparently, a pilot program for them."
"We are still in talks with UVI," Adams said, "to develop a local affiliation to move the LPN students more easily into UVI's registered nursing program." (Currently it takes four years to complete UVI's Registered Nursing program.)
She said, "We are really educating two levels of nurses. This is our dream."
Adams explained that some LPN graduates may have families of their own with young children, and it would not be easy for them to go to Puerto Rico. "They can still go to school here and take college courses," she said. "We want to give the students an option. Whether they continue at UVI here, or go on to Puerto Rico, they will be finished products."
A number of steps precede gaining admission to Inter-American's nursing program. The LPN graduates who have passed their National Council Licensure Examination will be eligible for admission to Inter-American's nursing program only after passing the National League of Nursing Acceleration Challenge Exam, Adams said.
"If they pass [those exams] and all the other university requirements," she said, "they can be admitted to Inter-American's program and complete the course in about one year and six months.
Adams said the hospital has been working for years to decrease its reliance on visiting nurses. "If we educate 100 nurses, and 50 stay here, that's 50 more than we had previously."
"This is an outstanding opportunity for these students to help realize their goal of a BSN degree and help create a pool of qualified nurses for the territory."
Adams has been steadfast in her pursuit to produce trained nurses for the territory. Years of planning went into the current nursing program. A nursing shortage is not unique to the Virgin Islands; it is a nationwide problem, according to health sources.
The first crop of LPNs graduated from the hospital's school in August 2004. Out of a pool of 50 applicants – with no advertising – 17 were selected and 13 graduated (See "Hospital's LPN Training Program Reaches Milestone").
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