Nursing students starting at Columbia Gorge Community College next fall will enter a new program designed to meet changes in the industry and increase access to four-year degrees.
The curriculum also allows students a seamless transition from community college to Oregon Health & Science and University, where they can take an additional year of coursework to earn a bachelor’s of science in nursing.
Doris Jepsen, CGCC’s director of nursing, said she has considered joining the Oregon Consortium for Nursing Education several times over the years, but the timing has always been off.
She said the timing was good this year because of CGCC updating its curriculum.
“If we’re going to have to do all this work, we might as well look at the big picture,” she said.
The college entered an intergovernmental agreement with OCNE in 2016 and, after an extensive approval process, prepared for the transition in curriculum.
“It’s quite a process to do this because when you change more than 30 percent of a curriculum, which we have done, you have to treat it then as if it’s a brand-new program,” Jepsen said.
Students currently enrolled in CGCC’s nursing program won’t be affected by the new curriculum, she said, but the 24students entering the nursing program this fall will take OCNE classes and be held to its requirements.
One of OCNE’s goals is to realign nursing education with the realities of the industry.
“What’s different for new students is kind of the focus from the get-go,” Jepsen said. Instead of learning basic care first, for example, new students will start off learning how health and healthcare is promoted in society.
The school will also add classes specifically for pathophysiology and pharmacology, which are currently taught as part of other classes. The formatting and content of clinicals will also change according to OCNE’s understanding of healthcare system changes and emerging healthcare needs.
“There’s just a lot of different focus that happens throughout,” said Jepsen.
She is confident that the transition into the new curriculum will go smoothly because, she said, “it’s a tried and true program…it’s not like we don’t have help.”
She and other CGCC staff will be attending a two-day statewide meeting to meet program representatives and faculty from the other schools in the consortium. Current faculty have also been talking with staff at Clackamas and Clatsop community colleges for help in the transition, she said.
CGCC joins Blue Mountain, Clackamas, Clatsop, Lane, Mt. Hood, Rogue, Southwestern Oregon, Treasure Valley, and Umpqua community colleges; and OHSU’s Ashland, Klamath Falls, La Grande, Monmouth and Portland campuses, as well as OHSU’s online nursing program, in the consortium.
Starting this fall, students will take a year of prerequisites and the first two years of the OCNE curriculum at CGCC to earn an associate of science in nursing degree. All admitted into the OCNE nursing program at a community college are non-competitively admitted to OHSU so, following their graduation, students have the option of doing an additional year at OHSU to earn their bachelor’s degree.
While the coursework at all facilities is the same, OCNE program director Angela Spencer said there are three “buckets” of OCNE students: Those who complete their associate’s degree and finish with a bachelor’s degree from OHSU; those who start on an OHSU campus and earn a bachelor’s; and those who get the associate’s from a community college and decide not to pursue a bachelor’s.
For students pursuing the bachelor’s, the only difference between starting the program at a community college and at an OHSU campus is the associate degree earned after the second year of the curriculum.
Students starting at a community college get an associate’s upon graduating and are immediately able to take the national licensure exam before taking the third year of coursework at OHSU, while those starting at OHSU must wait to take the exam until after they finish the three-year program.
Students who take the community college route have three years to enroll at OHSU after they’ve earned an associate’s.
While CGCC has a similar existing agreement with Linfield College, a private institution in McMinville that allows CGCC graduates placement into its four-year nursing program, OCNE offers students another avenue to earn their bachelor’s.
As of now, 3,186 community college students have graduated from OCNE and 30 percent of those continued onto OHSU, said Angela Spencer, an OCNE program manager at OHSU.
Program operations are managed by a three-person team at OHSU: Spencer and her co-director, Paula-Gubrud Howe, and the dean of OHSU’s school of nursing, Susan Bakewell-Sachs; but it is run by a council of nursing program directors from each of the member community colleges.
“We really get excited when we have new partners join, it really adds enrichment to every part of our program,” said Spencer. “It just means more opportunities to collaborate and more opportunities for faculty to share knowledge and resources with us.”
Since the OCNE curriculum is standardized, faculty at different member-schools can share their resources, experiences and insight about the course material.
The schools’ nursing program directors and faculty are also directly involved in regularly reviewing and updating all the OCNE courses, a process done every five years.
“[We] take into account if there are changes in healthcare needs we need to address,” Spencer said.
They look at the prevalence of health conditions, both nationally and in-state, as well as standards from nursing organizations and the CDC.
Another perk of the standardized curriculum is that students admitted into one of the member-schools’ nursing programs can complete the first two years of coursework at any member school and the third year at any participating OHSU campus. There’s also an option to complete the curriculum online.
This, Bakewell-Sachs said, allows OCNE to build a network of support for students so they can attend school and join the workforce in their own communities.
“More than a million nurses will be needed in the United States within four years and, beginning this fall, Columbia Gorge Community College marks a new milestone in its longstanding mission of preparing nurses to join this fast-growing field,” the college said in a press release.
CGCC’s nursing program began in 2001 at the request of area hospitals to confront a severe nursing shortage in the Gorge and was initially intended to end once the immediate crisis had passed, Jepsen said.
The program has since graduated 281 students and made clinical agreements with 24 local agencies.
Jepsen called the nursing program “one of the strongest programs at the college, probably the strongest program at the college.”
For more information on CGCC’s nursing program and OCNE, visit https://www.cgcc.edu/nursing-health-occupations.