It’s been less than a year since Rachel Mathison, RN, went back to school for a bachelor’s degree in nursing, but she can already see how her classes are changing her nursing practice and her life.
Mathison is a neonatal intensive care nurse at Kaiser Permanente Oakland who received an associate’s degree in nursing nearly 20 years ago. She’s one of 250 Kaiser Permanente nurses participating in partnership programs established with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Nurse Scholars Academy. The academy enables working nurses like Mathison to earn bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in nursing.
“I have a bigger picture now,” Mathison explained. “My public health nursing class has helped me think more about where my patients go after they leave the hospital. I’ve always focused on helping the individual or family in front of me, but now I’m thinking about what I can do on a larger scale.”
Mathison said she’s also been thinking more about how she communicates with and supports colleagues at work, and she’s been learning about what makes for a successful model of health care.
The primary goal of the Nurse Scholars Academy, which launched in December 2015, is to increase the number of Kaiser Permanente nurses with bachelor’s and advanced degrees in nursing. But Theresa Brodrick, RN, PhD, vice president, Kaiser Permanente Clinical Integration and Regional Nursing Executive, said it’s ultimately “all about the patients.”
Research shows that hospitals that employ nurses with higher levels of education have better patient outcomes than hospitals that don’t.
“Across the country, very few organizations make the kind of commitment to their nurses that we do. We’ve made this opportunity available to our nurses because we know it’s going to have a direct impact on the care of our patients,” Brodrick said.
The largest number of nurses are enrolled in the registered nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. The program’s curriculum was developed in partnership with Samuel Merritt University specifically for Kaiser Permanente nurses and includes a mindfulness-based stress reduction course for self-care. Richard MacIntyre, PhD, RN, director of the RN to BSN program at Samuel Merritt University, said the program also has a special focus on “the attitudes, skills, and knowledge nurses need to improve quality and safety outcomes in hospitals.”
The master’s and doctoral programs are offered through the University of San Francisco, and the academy offers separate leadership development, executive, and fellowship tracks.
RN to BSN classes are held in Oakland and Sacramento, with new classes beginning at the Kaiser Permanente San Leandro Medical Center later this year. Generous financial assistance is available to all students, and a new Choice program offers financial help to non-represented Kaiser Permanente RNs pursuing nursing degrees at any accredited university or college. Students can also use tuition reimbursement , which is available to most Kaiser Permanente employees.
Nurse Scholars Academy Executive Director Jim D’Alfonso said the program is designed to remove barriers so that Kaiser Permanente working nurses can learn the latest in science, technology, and nursing practice.
“We know it can be expensive to go back to school, and it can be difficult to get to classes. We want to make going back to school easy.”
Mathew Elliott, RN, a Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento ICU nurse who will graduate from the BSN program in December, said he’s grateful for the opportunity.
“It’s enabled all of us to become better nurses, better leaders, and better people,” he said. “It’s definitely improved the quality of care we provide.”