Red River College inks first Bachelor of Nursing degrees

By Brenlee Coates

A student in RRC's BN program assists a patient in clinical training with her teacher's support.
A student in RRC’s BN program assists a patient in clinical training with her teacher’s support.

The Bachelor of Nursing (BN) you receive after concluding your studies at Red River College is the same sort of sheet of paper that any university would issue, but the program runs a little differently at the college.
The biggest difference is in the schedule. The college runs a three-year, condensed program that is equivalent to a four-year academic degree.
“I didn’t really realize what the difference would be until I went through it, but I’m really happy I did it through Red River,” says recent grad, Cindi Lecuyer.
“I’ve heard a few people ask where I graduated from and they say ‘Oh yeah, I can tell.’”
The three-year degree program was developed in response to the College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba (CRNM)’s educational requirements which evolved to necessitate that nurses obtain degrees. The national Registered Nurse standard was adjusted and the CRNM had to align itself with it.
That meant that Red River College (RRC)’s current framework, which was a joint BN program and a separate diploma program, no longer met the requirements and had to be dissolved.
Luckily, the college had already begun looking in this direction and had laid a lot of the groundwork for a new program.
In 2009, the provincial government gave RRC degree granting authority, and shortly thereafter, the program was announced. Its first 225 students began in August 2010, and its graduates had their winter convocation in February this year.
Program chair, Karen Wall, has been with the college since 1978, and was instrumental in shaping the degree program and getting it running.
She even withheld from retiring until she could see the first graduates off in February.
“This is what I wanted to accomplish,” says Wall, of the degree program.
“Now someone with a fresh look can see where to go from here.”
Perhaps the best credit to the program’s success has been the reply from the workforce, which snatched up every last one of RRC’s grads of the program.
“That’s the best feedback we can get as a program, that we’re producing what is needed,” says Wall.
Lecuyer, who works full-time for the Children’s Hospital in the float pool, says she “felt really comfortable” stepping into a nursing position after graduation.“I felt like what we learned actually corresponded to what we needed to know,” she says.
Lecuyer also points to the instructors who were very up-to-date on current practices and made the training feel very “relevant and beneficial.”

RRC's BN students get hands-on training
RRC’s BN students get hands-on training.

When it comes to entrance requirements to the program at RRC, students may enter the program after completing high school and anatomy and physiology courses.
The program already has a two-and-a-half to three-year wait list, so entry is competitive. Many people take University 1 and knock off some of the course requirements while they await entry, or take RRC’s health care aide certificate program to see if they enjoy studies in healthcare.Wall feels there are benefits to a bit of a delayed entry to the program.
“It’s a hard course and you have to be really disciplined,” says Wall. The program spans 10 months a year, and features three terms per year instead of the standard two.
Each term is followed by a week break to give the students a bit of relief from the intensive schedule.
Although the program is condensed and accelerated, its design allows for some flexibility.
For instance, only the courses in the first year of the program are sequential. After that, in years two and three, the terms are more randomized and you may do courses in no particular order within each year’s programming.
That means, if you have to drop a course or fail a course, you can repeat it in the following term – not wait an entire school year to get back on track.
“It makes it easier for students to make decisions for themselves,” says Wall. “We’re all human.”
Other initiatives that are unique to RRC is an ACCESS program that focuses on Aboriginal students, recent immigrants and single parents who cannot meet the requirements for entry in the program because of social or economic factors, location, or lack of formal education.
Counsel and academic upgrading is extended to these people, and 50 seats each year are saved for students in the ACCESS program.
On top of this, the college offers a program for licensed practical nurses to get their BNs. People may do this and enter at the second-year level of the program at Red River College or take their courses by video correspondence in one of the four rural community sites operating at that time.
The six eligible rural communities are Dauphin, Neepawa, Portage la Prairie, Selkirk, Steinbach and Winkler.
The rural communities are approved based on their ability to offer some of the clinical training components of the program.
Wall says the rural initiative was created since rural communities are the ones with the highest demand for nurses, and her team figured people would be more likely to stay in their towns if they got to complete their training there.
When it came to the ultimate test of students writing their national nursing exam last fall, giving the college its first direct evaluation of the program, their pass rate “exceeded the provincial standard,” says Wall.
Due to high demand, the program is currently offered to Manitoban residents only.
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