SON Prepares BSN Candidates to Meet National Demand

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

Fairuz Saleh believes that earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from The University of Texas at El Paso will open more doors for her as a registered nurse than if she obtained an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma.

“I want a bachelor’s degree because I feel like with it, I will have more opportunities in the workforce,” said Saleh, who first took classes at El Paso Community College and then started the nursing program at UTEP in January. “At the same time, I think that education is continuous and it's not like you get to a certain point and that's it. I want to keep going.”Nursing students enrolled in UTEP’s traditional BSN program receive hands-on training in the University’s Center for Simulation. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News ServiceNursing students enrolled in UTEP’s traditional BSN program receive hands-on training in the University’s Center for Simulation. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

Saleh is one of 120 students who enrolled in the UTEP School of Nursing’s traditional BSN program in January. Her class is the largest in the school’s history, which is a strong indicator of the innovative efforts of nursing administrators to promote baccalaureate education among nurses through the Believe in BSN Education Initiative.

Launched in summer 2012, the initiative encourages future and current registered nurses to obtain their BSN degrees through UTEP.

The campaign is part of the nursing school’s efforts to align itself with the recommendations from the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) report on The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health.

“One of the IOM recommendations is that by 2020, 80 percent of the registered nurses in the workforce will be baccalaureate prepared, and that's across the country,” said School of Nursing Dean Elias Provencio-Vasquez, Ph.D. “The Believe in BSN Education Initiative is making it possible for us do our part to meet that goal nationwide by promoting baccalaureate education.”

Although the training for nurses with a diploma or an ADN or BSN degree is similar, there are some differences and limitations. A diploma nursing program is three years and an ADN program is two years. At UTEP, the traditional BSN is a four-year degree plan.  

Diploma and ADN nurses are generally limited to entry-level positions at hospitals and inpatient care facilities, while nurses with a BSN have more options and can move into leadership positions more easily. BSN nurses also have the opportunity to continue their education and obtain a master’s and doctoral degree and become leaders in their field, Provencio-Vasquez said.

He acknowledged that students in the traditional program made the right choice to get their BSN right off the bat. But, he said, a major push of the initiative is to encourage registered nurses with an associate degree or diploma to obtain their baccalaureate degree through the UTEP RN-BSN Online Degree Option.

The program is an affordable and flexible opportunity for registered nurses to earn their BSN degree in two semesters. To date, 382 nurses have obtained their BSN degrees through the program, and another 59 are expected to graduate in May.

Deborah Sikes, RN-BSN director, said taking courses online is convenient for nurses who are juggling work and school.

“Students can take the classes from anywhere that they have a computer and Internet access,” she said. “Assignments can be read and completed at the time of day that is most convenient for the nurse who is working multiple shifts. Students are not required to come to campus to attend classes. Interaction and feedback from instructors is available through multiple communication venues.”

Sheryl Whitman became a registered nurse after graduating from North Harris Community College in Houston in 1996. She was used to being in the classroom in college, so she had no idea how the online program would work when she enrolled in the RN-BSN program. Through the online classes and web sessions, she got to know her classmates and professors as if they were all in the same classroom in Houston where she lives, she said.

“I would recommend UTEP for the BSN and I think everyone should climb the career ladder for their BSN,” said Whitman, who went back to school after the medical center where she works became Magnet Status Certified and began employing only BSN prepared registered nurses. “I feel it is a sense of accomplishment and it totally completes the role of the registered nurse.”

In order to increase the number of BSN prepared nurses, the nursing school is working to develop consortium agreements between ADN and BSN programs that allow students to seamlessly move from the ADN to the BSN to ensure a smooth transition between the programs, Sikes said.

The Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing Fast Track Program also promotes a smooth transition into nursing for college graduates who want to change careers and become a nurse in just 12 months. Developed in 2005, UTEP’s Fast Track program will start its ninth cohort in May. To date, the program has graduated nearly 200 students.

Manuel Santa Cruz, D.N.P., the school’s undergraduate education assistant dean, said throughout his 30-year nursing career, he has heard talk about having more nurses become baccalaureate prepared, but with the IOM’s support, this is the first time the idea has had serious momentum.

He credits the School of Nursing with preparing nurses who have a better understanding of critical thinking and management skills who can take a more global approach to patient care. 

“I think we're cutting edge and very innovative in approaches to curriculum and to simulation techniques, and I think we're always thinking outside the box,” Santa Cruz said. “The goal is no longer status quo. We're leading a new generation of nurses that perhaps will one day take care of us.”

Applications for Traditional BSN and Fast Track programs and pre-nursing courses are open. For more information, visit


Related Stories:

Transforming Nursing Education, UTEP Magazine, page 22-23