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Liberty University School of Nursing launches fast-track BSN program catered to college graduates, military veterans

LUSON professor Tonia Kennedy trains an ABSN student in CPR. (Photos by Chase Gyles)

Responding to the rising need for nurses in today’s healthcare environment, the Liberty University School of Nursing (LUSON) has created a new opportunity for those who already have a college degree or military veterans. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) can now be completed in as little as one year through the Accelerated BSN (ABSN) residential program.

LUSON Dean Shanna Akers explained that the new program is partially in response to a nationwide shortage of nurses, a result of widespread “burnout” and a lack of faculty to train the next generation. While this shortage is something that the nursing field saw coming as early as 10 years ago, according to Akers, the COVID-19 pandemic brought it to the forefront.

“When COVID hit, we started to see nurse issues across the board because of exhaustion or a lack of passion, which breaks my heart,” Akers said. “We as a nation are turning away around 70,000 qualified students because we don’t have enough faculty, and we don’t have enough faculty because we don’t have enough nurses, to some extent. This is one way that our ABSN students can serve and meet a huge need that is growing. To be able to open a door for this group of people, that is really exciting to me.”

Prior to the creation of the new ABSN program, college graduates or military veterans in their 30s, 40s, or even older who decided to pursue a BSN through Liberty had to study alongside the traditional incoming students. However, as adults who oftentimes had children and a full-time job, or other responsibilities and busy schedules, the conventional four-year curriculum didn’t meet their needs. Akers also noted that military veterans who bring experience as medics or have worked in hospital settings typically do not receive credit for their patient-care background when trying to work as a civilian.

Students enrolled in the inaugural year of Liberty’s ABSN program

“We created opportunities for them to potentially use prior learning experiences to help account for credits,” Akers explained. “We’ve really built it to make the most use of their experience, meeting them where they are as adult learners and providing what they need to become registered nurses.”

“I come from a military family; my brother was Army, my dad was Army, my grandfathers were Army, and I have a love in my heart for our servicemen and servicewomen who have come back and need to continue to serve; it’s at the core of who they are. And nursing is a great opportunity to serve individuals, families, and communities.” Akers added.

Requiring students to have their general education coursework completed before entrance, the accelerated program utilizes an intensive model and takes 12 months to complete, working from January through December.

“We have two-week classes to 16-week classes and everything in between,” Akers said. “There’s no time off; they are either in class or the hospital five days a week, but we did build in some three- or four-day weekends throughout the program.”

There are 9 students participating in the program, which officially kicked off on Jan. 10, including Tiffany Otto, who after six years in the Air Force is able to pursue her childhood goal of graduating from nursing school.

“I used to do missions trips with my church when I was in middle school, and from that point I knew I wanted to do nursing, but it took a while to get back into it,” Otto said. “While I was still in the military, I tried to go to nursing school, but we were on high-frequency deployments, so it wasn’t feasible. With the one-year schedule, it’s how I’m used to learning from the military; you focus on one thing at a time for a short amount of time. It also has a great student-to-teacher ratio this year, and I really like that.”

Some students graduated from other programs at Liberty or other universities before considering the nursing field.

Ashley Segur (’20), earned her Bachelor of Science in Public Health (pre-clinical) from Liberty and found a curiosity for nursing while working at a Lynchburg medical aesthetics practice and hormone clinic during her two years after graduation.

“Originally, I was interested in physician assistant school, but then I developed an interest in nursing and heard about this program,” she said. “I thought it was awesome how they’re doing it all in one year because I was already out of school and wanted to do it faster than (four years), and I’m excited to get started.”

The students are using the same facilities and resources as the traditional BSN students, including spending the same number of hours in LUSON’s simulation labs and working in a clinical setting at the local Centra hospital. This week will mark their first patient contact as they learn about physical assessment.

LUSON professor Carol Harvey, who is one of the main professors in the ABSN program, said she has already witnessed the new students’ eagerness to learn in the little time that they’ve had since courses began last week.

“Their response to what we’ve done so far is the most dynamic and enthusiastic I’ve ever had,” Harvey said. “You can tell they’re mature learners, they’re excited to learn, they’re excited to compare what I’m teaching to what they already know. It’s been a great week.”

Liberty’s nursing school, like every other academic department at Liberty, is fully aligned with the university’s original Christian mission.

“We’re excited to be offering this program from a biblical worldview. We haven’t found any other program similar to this at any other faith-based institution.”

In addition to its traditional programs through which students can earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP),  and PhD in Nursing, Liberty’s School of Nursing also offers specialized online tracks like an online RN to BSN cohort program as well as an online dual degree program to go from RN to BSN to MSN.

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