UVM launches master's nursing degree to tackle nursing shortage

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University of Vermont’s new Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing program

New Direct Entry Nursing Master’s will fast track career-changers into nursing profession

Vermont Business Magazine At a time when rising demand for healthcare and a retiring nursing workforce are contributing to a critical need for nurses nationwide, the University of Vermont’s new Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing program offers a fast track for career-changers looking to enter the nursing profession.

Vermont has approximately 11,000 nurses working statewide, according to VT AHEC, and another 9,000 nurses are needed in the next seven years to fill projected workforce shortages. Vermont nursing schools see between 500 and 600 new nurses graduate per year — less than half the number needed to keep up with workforce demands. Designed for students who hold bachelor's degrees in fields other than nursing, the new direct entry program offers a partial solution to increase the nursing workforce through an accelerated path for those with non-nursing backgrounds to enter the profession.

“This is a new route for individuals who potentially were in another field,” said Dr. Rosemary Dale, Holly and Bob Miller Professor of Nursing Leadership and Chair of the University’s Nursing Department. “These individuals could be in middle-level or senior-level positions right now and they’re looking to move into nursing expeditiously. The master's degree gives them the tools to mature in the profession and hone their skills as an educator or an administrator, or an individual who's going to work in the public health area.”

The program starts with a full-time, on-campus year, culminating with the NCLEX-RN exam that gives students a license to work in VT - and the opportunity to gain professional expertise while earning a registered nurse’s salary and completing the two-year master’s degree online. 

Following the prelicensure year, which includes 675 hours of direct clinical experience, primarily within the University of Vermont Health Network, students advance into the master’s curriculum and select an area of focus. With options ranging from public health, education, and integrative health to business leadership and trauma-informed care, the program will foster development of niche skills that are increasingly vital in healthcare today. The master’s degree also enables registered nurses to develop specialized expertise that can advance their skills and earning potential.

“At the core of this new direct-entry program lies a profound commitment to redefining the landscape of nursing education,” said Program Director Dr. Jennifer Laurent, a nurse practitioner, professor, and Director of Nursing Graduate Programs.

The program’s approach also equips graduates with a distinct advantage in a competitive job market, positioning them as adaptable leaders capable of addressing complex healthcare challenges with customized skills. Students develop proficiency in nursing procedures, clinical decision-making, and advanced nursing concepts as they progress into the master’s curriculum.

“We are excited about this new program, and the possibilities it opens up for individuals who want to enter the nursing profession,” said UVM Health Network Chief Nursing Officer Carrie Howard-Canning. “As the health care needs of our community continue to grow, we must work with our partners in creative and innovative ways like this to ensure we are able to recruit the talented clinical staff and leaders we need to provide the high-quality care our patients deserve, now and into the future.”

Developing Agile Nursing Leaders

For Shane Phipps ‘26, a husband, father, and Air National Guard Member, UVM’s Direct Entry to Nursing option moved a second career in nursing from idea to reality. 

“You really must accomplish a lot in a short amount of time,” said Phipps of the experience of the prelicensure year, which involved classes and clinical experiences five days a week and intense studying to prepare for the licensure exam. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done academically, but that makes it all the more fulfilling.”

The master’s curriculum draws on the expertise of faculty in disciplines across the university – in math, education, and public and integrative health – to complement students’ experience in the clinic, reflecting the Department of Nursing’s commitment to shaping agile, skilled, and multifaceted nursing leaders. 

Phipps found his professors to be supportive of his goals, an aspect of the direct entry program that Laurent emphasizes is important for students pursuing a non-traditional path to nursing.

“What's unique about the master's program is that it allows individuals to have some choice in how they want to craft their master's degree,” says Laurent. “It's actually built to include a core intensive or micro-certificate of graduate study.”

Current nurses can choose a specialty area to advance their careers, and the master’s program provides a seamless transition to UVM’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) program.

The direct entry master’s program is designed to develop nursing leaders who are not only well-prepared clinicians, but also compassionate advocates, critical thinkers, and agents of positive change. For Phipps, this became apparent through his first clinical assignment in a long-term care setting. 

“Caring for the elderly patients in that facility, who often just needed someone to talk to, taught me the small things often make the biggest difference. I think that’s fundamental in nursing, and something I’ll always carry with me,” said Phipps, who is pursuing a D.N.P. degree. “It was a challenging yet rewarding hands-on experience that really affirmed I had made the right decision in getting into healthcare.”

Other schools in the region, including John Hopkins School of Nursing and Columbia University, provide the opportunity for individuals with a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field to become nurses, but few provide the opportunity to receive an advanced nursing degree with specialization through micro-credentialing. UVM’s proposed program is also more affordable than most programs in the Northeast.

The Direct Entry to Master of Nursing program’s full-time prelicensure year starts in Fall 2024, followed by the online master’s curriculum, offered full- or part-time, in Fall 2025. In addition to the Master’s Direct Entry into Nursing, UVM offers a traditional Bachelor of Science with a Nursing major; a Direct Entry into Doctor of Nursing Practice for Nurse Practitioners and Executive Nurse Leaders; and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

 Learn more: go.uvm.edu/nursingdirectentry

Source: 3.4.2024. (BURLINGTON, VT) - UVM

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