Green River College’s new program solves the state’s nursing shortage

With a grant from Premera Blue Cross, Green River College and three other Washington colleges will launch a program to address the nursing shortage.

Green River College’s new academic program will offer Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) a chance to earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which is typically required for nurse educators.

This program is groundbreaking — only one other LPN to BSN program exists in Washington, and it only started a year ago, said Associate Dean of Nursing KaraLynn LaValley. Before that, there was no program that made it easy for licensed practical nurses to earn their bachelor’s degree in nursing, LaValley said.

Importantly, nurses who earn their BSN from Green River College will work and provide care in Auburn and South King County, LaValley said. Green River’s main campus is in Auburn.

It is expected that 1 million new registered nurses will be needed by 2030, according to Premera Blue Cross. However, in 2020, about 80,000 qualified applicants for the baccalaureate and higher nursing degrees were turned away due to a shortage of faculty, clinical sites and other resources, according to Premera Blue Cross.

The long-term goal of the program is to increase the capacity of nursing schools by increasing the number of nurses with higher education degrees like the BSN, said Amanda Lansford of Premera Blue Cross.

Historically, two of the biggest barriers to earning an advanced nursing degree are school cost and school location, Lansford said.

“This program is designed to remove barriers to obtaining an advanced degree,” Lansford said.

Now, LPNs will be able to earn a BSN for about a quarter of the price of a traditional four-year college, LaValley said. In addition to this, the school is looking for ways to schedule courses so that nurses can continue working as LPNs while earning their BSN.

Pending state approval, Green River College will begin accepting students into the new program in fall 2022. Premera Blue Cross will support the new program with $1.8 million in funding for four schools in Washington. The other colleges are Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Columbia Basin College in Pasco, and the Wenatchee Valley College campus in Omak.

The grant will provide students with scholarships and faculty stipends, according to Premera Blue Cross.

In addition to creating more nurse educators, studies show that nurses with a BSN degree can provide more advanced patient care, according to studies cited by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the shortage of nurses and healthcare professionals are experiencing high levels of burnout, Lansford said. In addition, over the next decade, it is expected that the number of nurses retiring will exceed the number of new nurses entering the field.

All of these factors contribute to the need for this program, Lansford said.

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