GW Expands Advanced Nursing Education in Rural Virginia

April 26, 2012

Jean Johnson, Richard Teaff at event to sign memorandum

Jean Johnson, School of Nursing dean, and Richard Teaff, president of Dabney S. Lancaster Community College, signed a memorandum of understanding Monday to expand advanced nursing education in rural Virginia through GW's new associate's degree to master's

Nurses living in the Shenandoah Valley will now have an opportunity to earn advanced degrees from the George Washington School of Nursing through a new partnership with Dabney S. Lancaster Community College (DSLCC).

Jean Johnson, SON dean, signed a memorandum of understanding with Richard Teaff, president of Dabney S. Lancaster Community College in Clifton Forge, Va., Monday that will allow DSLCC students or alumni to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree from GW while still serving the communities they live in. The program is also open to any registered nurse with an associate’s degree.

“We all know there is a shortage of nurses in Virginia locally and nationally,” said Dr. Teaff. “Having the opportunity for registered nurses to get their baccalaureate and master’s degree by staying in their home area is a plus for the students and for all of us that live in the area. It’s a real win for the commonwealth of Virginia.”

To address the challenges with access to primary care regionally and nationally, Dr. Johnson and Ellen Dawson, SON senior associate dean for academic affairs, approached DSLCC, which offers an associate’s degree nursing program, last spring about working together to offer an innovative educational program. GW’s new associate’s degree to master’s degree online program offers two concentrations to prepare students to be either a family nurse practitioner or nurse midwife.

"This innovative public-private partnership directly addresses Governor Bob McDonnell’s call for more Virginians earning degrees, particularly in high demand fields like health care,” said Virginia Secretary of Education Laura Fornash. “Ensuring underserved communities receive the medical care they need is important to the health of our communities as well as the commonwealth of Virginia. This partnership represents a firm commitment from two schools of excellence and will serve as a model for the rest of the commonwealth as well as the nation.”

The program will also provide more obstetric care to the area, which currently has no practicing obstetricians. Women have to drive almost an hour on mountain roads to Roanoke, Va., to receive obstetric care or deliver in the local emergency room. Shenandoah University will provide the certified-midwifery coursework for the program.

“Educating just four new nurses a year will create approximately 20,000 new primary care visits a year,” said Dr. Dawson, who hopes to get 10 students for the first cohort.

Students enrolled in the GW AD-MSN three-year part-time program will complete their coursework online, and DSLCC will open their computer lab to students in need of Internet access. Students will complete clinical rotations at a practice site near their home communities, and GW faculty will conduct site visits. All the while, students are expected to keep working as registered nurses in their home communities. If necessary, students may exit the program midway with a bachelor of science in nursing (B.S.N.) degree and have the option of returning for their master’s at a later date.

“We feel very fortunate to be in this partnership and look forward to continuing to explore additional ways that we can work together,” said Dr. Johnson.

Michelle Browning, a 48-year-old registered nurse who received her associate’s degree in nursing from DSLCC in 1994, has wanted to further her education so she can make more of a difference in her community.

“This area is in so much need of this program,” said Ms. Browning. “As an associate degree nurse, you can only go so far.”

GW’s online graduate programs are ranked in the top third of several categories in US News & World Report’s online education programs for 2012, and the school’s faculty credentials and training ranks number one nationally.

Mark Hepler, a current DSLCC nursing student, husband and father of three children, said the new program will make it possible for him to further his career and earn an advanced degree.

“There’s not a lot of opportunity for graduate programs around here so I think it’s going to open up doors for a lot of people in our community,” said Mr. Hepler.