Journal of Nursing Education

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Strategies for Faculty: Teaching the RN Student in a BSN Program

Pamela Parlocha, RN, MS; Akemi Hiraki, RN, MS

Abstract

Today, increased numbers of nurses are seeking a bachelor of science degree in nursing. Along with this trend, accounts are appearing in the literature about the multitude of problems faced by nurses who decide to go back to school.1'2 For the nurse who chooses to further her education in a generic baccalaureate program, unexpected barriers often lie ahead. Although it is true that difficulties may arise for the RN seeking the BSN degree, the faculty who teach this RN student often find their own special brand of problem situations. Yei, little has been written to da te that addresses these issues or proposes teaching strategies that might assist faculty in working with the RN student. We have developed strategies based on our experience of teaching a mixed group of RN and generic students which are designed to facilitate the learning process while decreasing faculty frustration.

Faculty must be aware of two basic assumptions before implementing any teaching strategy. First, RN students are different from generic students. It is a mistake to assume that they will be absorbed into the generic group of students without difficulty. Their special characteristics and needs preclude that possibility. Second, RN students reauire more faculty time than generic students. As the RN becomes socialized into the academic community, she may experience feelings of alienation or anxiety. These feelings are often expressed through complaints about course objectives, test questions, or the nursing program in general. Or the RN may become dependent on faculty, scheduling many appointments for advisement. Faculty reassurance and support are necessary and important, but are time consuming as well.

Unique Characteristics and Socialization Needs

Faculty, especially those who have never taught RN students, tend to use the same teaching approach with them as with generic students. Muzio and Ohashi question whether educational structures or processes which were developed originally for generic students are appropriate for RN students because of their unique adult learner characteristics.4 Trie RN comes to a baccalaureate program with characteristics and needs which differ widely from the generic student population. In fact, it would be difficult to describe a "typical" RN student because they vary within their group. While one RN may have graduated two years ago from an associate degree program and worked in a coronary care unit exclusively in the interim, another may have graduated from a diploma program twenty years ago and not practiced for the last five. The wide divergence in background requires different approaches from faculty members who encounter these students in the classroom, clinical area, or as advisees.

When the RN attempts to make the transition back to the role of student in the university setting, there is an effect wecall "academic shock."5 Nurses who return to school for a baccalaureate degree often find the experience to be quite different from what they had expected and may have misconceptions about what it will be like. For example, the RN student may feel intimidated at the prospect of attending classes with groups of undergraduate students. These students have shared the first two or three years of university instruction and are familiar with the grading standards, instructor styles, and the general level of performance which is expected of them at that particular institution.

Disillusionment may also follow when the student discovers that the information in the latest required textbook provides no universal solutions to nursing care problems. She may even find contrary information in an up-to-date journal article that negates what she has previously read. Nursing is an emerging science. As with other rapidly developing applied sciences, the discoveries of tomorrow may quickly change the accepted theories…

Today, increased numbers of nurses are seeking a bachelor of science degree in nursing. Along with this trend, accounts are appearing in the literature about the multitude of problems faced by nurses who decide to go back to school.1'2 For the nurse who chooses to further her education in a generic baccalaureate program, unexpected barriers often lie ahead. Although it is true that difficulties may arise for the RN seeking the BSN degree, the faculty who teach this RN student often find their own special brand of problem situations. Yei, little has been written to da te that addresses these issues or proposes teaching strategies that might assist faculty in working with the RN student. We have developed strategies based on our experience of teaching a mixed group of RN and generic students which are designed to facilitate the learning process while decreasing faculty frustration.

Faculty must be aware of two basic assumptions before implementing any teaching strategy. First, RN students are different from generic students. It is a mistake to assume that they will be absorbed into the generic group of students without difficulty. Their special characteristics and needs preclude that possibility. Second, RN students reauire more faculty time than generic students. As the RN becomes socialized into the academic community, she may experience feelings of alienation or anxiety. These feelings are often expressed through complaints about course objectives, test questions, or the nursing program in general. Or the RN may become dependent on faculty, scheduling many appointments for advisement. Faculty reassurance and support are necessary and important, but are time consuming as well.

Unique Characteristics and Socialization Needs

Faculty, especially those who have never taught RN students, tend to use the same teaching approach with them as with generic students. Muzio and Ohashi question whether educational structures or processes which were developed originally for generic students are appropriate for RN students because of their unique adult learner characteristics.4 Trie RN comes to a baccalaureate program with characteristics and needs which differ widely from the generic student population. In fact, it would be difficult to describe a "typical" RN student because they vary within their group. While one RN may have graduated two years ago from an associate degree program and worked in a coronary care unit exclusively in the interim, another may have graduated from a diploma program twenty years ago and not practiced for the last five. The wide divergence in background requires different approaches from faculty members who encounter these students in the classroom, clinical area, or as advisees.

When the RN attempts to make the transition back to the role of student in the university setting, there is an effect wecall "academic shock."5 Nurses who return to school for a baccalaureate degree often find the experience to be quite different from what they had expected and may have misconceptions about what it will be like. For example, the RN student may feel intimidated at the prospect of attending classes with groups of undergraduate students. These students have shared the first two or three years of university instruction and are familiar with the grading standards, instructor styles, and the general level of performance which is expected of them at that particular institution.

Disillusionment may also follow when the student discovers that the information in the latest required textbook provides no universal solutions to nursing care problems. She may even find contrary information in an up-to-date journal article that negates what she has previously read. Nursing is an emerging science. As with other rapidly developing applied sciences, the discoveries of tomorrow may quickly change the accepted theories of today.

Once faculty members are aware of the phenomenon of "academic shock," they may then implement some or all of the following strategies. First, providea formal orientation for incoming RN students. The philosophy and conceptual framework of the school of nursing may be introduced here, as well as more mundane matters such as location of class bulletin boards. When planning the orientation, include faculty, administrators, and RN students already in the program. These resources provide incoming RNs with answers to many of their questions. Next, develop a workshop or course designed for RNs which addresses specific content areas identified by faculty as necessary for entry into upper division nursing courses. Suggested course content might include concept development, problem solving, learning theory, or whatever faculty might deem reievant to the needs of the RN students. Another approach would be to encourage RN students to establish a selfled study group that is acknowledged by faculty and administration. The RNs tend to form their own support group anyway. Official sanction gives the group recognition and lessens the natural tendency of the meetings to deteriorate intogripe sessions. Suggest that the group invite a few interested generic students to participate, thereby facilitating the mainstreaming of RNs into the larger student community.

These strategies, though focused toward easing the RN into the program, ultimately will benefit faculty by reducing time and energy spent.

Differing Perceptions of a BSN Education

Although many baccalaureate programs in nursing now opera te using an integrated curriculum and nursing models for teaching nursing care, incoming RN students have often been educated in the medical model. Many baccalaureate programs now use conceptual frameworks such as a health-illness continuum and holism to teach nursing rather than the diseaseoriented model used in medicine. Thus, the RN student may enter school expecting a familiar educational approach only to encounter a new one. This unmet expectation compounded with the neophyte student role places varying degrees of stress upon the RN and strains her relationship with faculty. RN students may have difficulty assimilating these unfamiliar approaches into their own frames of reference, while faculty who are unaware of this differing perception feel frustrated with the RNs in their groups.

The teaching strategy that we recommend is to consistently reinforce integration and application of nursing concepts into clinical practice by assisting the RN student to make the cognitive connection. Faculty need to realize that it takes time for this integration and assimilation to occur within the RN student, and some learn more quickly than others.

Role Model Perceptions

The RN student, with her background of experience in specific areas of nursing, is often seen as a role model to generic students because she is what they plan to be upon graduation. Interactions between these students in the clinical setting may interfere with the student-teacher relationship as well as with attainment of the course objectives. For exampie, one generic student who had a clinical rotation in an intensive coronary care unit was shaken to learn that the RN student was more knowledgeable and adept than her medicalsurgical instructor in certain technical skills. What the generic student didn't see in this situation was that the objectives for this experience were related to theories on sensory deprivation, not improvement of coronary care technique. The strategy here would be to acknowledge the unique relationship between these students and utilize the RN's expertise to enrich clinical conferences and seminars. An RN's experience may be pertinent to the discussion, as long as the instructor keeps the focus within the context of the clinical objectives and conceptual framework of the course.

Role model conflicts and disillusionment may also occur when RN students have mistaken notions about university faculty and what they have to offer. They often believe that their instructor will have all the answers to their questions or give them more knowledge in a subspecialty area of nursing. They also may presume that faculty have the perfect solution to every nursing care problem in the clinical setting. Feelings of insecurity may arise in the faculty who feel that they should meet these expectations.

Remember that the graduate of a baccalaureate program is considered to be a generalist. The nurse with a BSN is prepared to function in any setting, not trained as a specialist in one area. Specialties usually are pursued on the graduate level. Communicating this understanding to the RN student will redirect her to the educational goals of the program. It has never been the role of the educator to ha ve all the answers, but rather to act as a resource for the student, assisting her to utilize the scientific method in problemsolving.

Differing Priorities

Another potential area of conflict may arise in the differing priorities of RN students compared to generic students. Many RNs have been working as nurses and plan to continue to do so for financial reasons. Scheduling their work hours around established class times can cause problems for them. If unable to accommodate RN requests in this area, faculty are often perceived as rigid or inflexible.

In addition, many RN students have families to support which makes school a lower priority for them. Family and work considerations may interfere with school commitments creating conflict between student and faculty. On the other hand, faculty expect students to compie te assignments on time and follow through with course requirements.

Acknowledge your understanding of the student's position, and allow her to vent her feelings. Either individual conference time or the RN's own study-support group may be used for expression of feelings in a nonthreatening atmosphere. Early recognition and ventilation of these feelings will prevent RN resentment and channeling of her energy into negative outlets. Once some of the anxiety is relieved, begin to assist the RN student to review her priorities and plan realistic compromises while maintaining reasonable limits for both of you.

Conclusion

We have shown that RN students have special needs, but then so do the faculty who must teach them. Awareness of these needs and judicious planning can ease some of the difficulties which aresure todevelop when faculty come to grips with integrating RNs into their groups of generic students. We have suggested strategies which are designed to assist faculty who teach RN students in a basic baccalaureate program.

References

  • 1. Hillsmith KE From RN tu BSN: Student perceptions. Nurs Outlook 20:98-102, 1578.
  • 2. Wooley AW: From RN to BSN: Faculty perceptions. Nurs Outlook 20:103-108. 1978.
  • 3. Kuntz B: Returning to school. Supervisor Nurse 9:15-17. 1978.
  • 4. Muzio LG. Ohashi JP: The RN student - Unique characteristics, unique needs. Nurs Outlook 27: 528-532, 1970.
  • 5. Hirak, A, Parlocha PK: Academic shock: A reality. Nursing 79 7980-82, 1079.

10.3928/0148-4834-19820501-05

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