RN-BSN Program Further Reimagined with New Program Director

This fall Joseph Zart, RN, BSN, MSN, CNE, clinical assistant professor of nursing, assumed the role of program director of the RN-BSN program. Professor Zart joined the College of Nursing and Health Professions faculty in 2013 equipped with more than 25 years of experience in the health care industry, predominately in leadership positions in psychiatric and mental health nursing.

“I have enjoyed all jobs in my nursing career, but Valparaiso University has been the most fulfilling and rewarding job I have ever had,” Professor Zart says. “I accepted this position as I like new challenges and want to build enrollment and increase retention of students in the program. Research reveals that higher percentages of BSN nurses translates to improved patient outcomes. I want to assist in developing those BSN-prepared nurses.”

Originally developed more than 30 years ago, Valpo’s RN-BSN program was reimagined in 2016 in response to an increased demand for BSN-prepared nurses. The program enables Valpo’s College of Nursing and Health Professions to expand educational opportunities to nurses in the community, foster connections with community partners seeking to increase their percentage of BSN-prepared nurses, and increase collaboration with various health care organizations in the Northwest Indiana and Chicagoland areas in order to facilitate clinical and practicum experiences for students.

Through a partnership with Porter Regional Hospital, the revamped RN-BSN program was initially designed for Porter associate degree nurses wishing to enhance their career through receipt of a baccalaureate degree, and has since expanded to include nurses from other health care facilities. Currently there are 16 students enrolled in the program, with the entire first and half of the second cohort comprised of nurses from Porter Regional.

The program’s fall 2017 launch was made possible thanks in large part to a Lilly Foundation grant, which assisted with startup resources, the development of preparatory classes, and the creation of courses in hybrid format. The receipt of continued funding allows for general information sessions, transcript reviews, and other initiatives aimed at marketing and expanding the program.

The RN-BSN program is unique in that courses are delivered in a hybrid format, combining traditional face-to-face classes with the flexibility and convenience of online work, particularly appealing to working nurses. The teaching strategies employed by program faculty are diverse, incorporating case studies, problem-based learning, evidence-based practice, and discussion. Learning is centered around real-world issues encountered by practicing nurses such as patient safety, ethical dilemmas, and communication issues within organizations.

While this fall marked the start of Professor Zart’s tenure as program director for the RN-BSN program, his connection to the program began last spring when he developed and taught the program’s management and leadership course. From promoting the program and fostering relationships with local health care organizations to transcript review and the development of individualized plans of study for students, Professor Zart has much to do in his new role. However, he is committed to continuing to teach the leadership and management course within the RN-BSN program, not to mention courses in the traditional and accelerated nursing program as well as health care leadership courses.

“This keeps me connected to the students and other faculty and enables me to identify opportunities to further improve upon the program,” Professor Zart says.

Professor Zart expresses a desire to expand the program and further identify ways in which to engage current RNs that aspire to obtain a BSN. And, he is uniquely prepared to do so, having begun his career as an associate degree RN and later returning to school to obtain his BSN and ultimately his MSN.

“I know the struggles working nurses face in their desire to return to school to further their education,” Professor Zart says. “I believe this perspective will serve me well as I engage and advise students as they pursue their educational goals.”

The first cohort of students in Valpo’s updated RN-BSN program either graduated with their bachelor of science in nursing December 2018 or will do so May 2019. As the CONHP seeks to further bolster the BSN workforce, the RN-BSN program continues to expand to include nurses from other facilities and additional partnerships with local health care organizations are in development.