In a March 2007 Calgary Herald article, Don Braid described the Athabasca University method of teaching nursing classes by distance as ?risky.? Braid’s comments caused great concern for many AU students, and AUSU replied to the article with an open letter to Braid.
The letter pointed out not only that ?hundreds of nurses are currently practicing in Alberta with credentials granted by AU,? but also that Athabasca nursing graduates ?have one of the highest averages across Alberta for the written nursing exam.?
Linda Philbric graduated from AU’s post-RN Bachelor of Nursing program in June 2006. After graduating, she was accepted to a ?very competitive? Emergency Nurse Practitioner program in the United States. Philbric considers the flexibility offered by AU’s distance course delivery to be one of the greatest strengths of the BN program. ?I love distance ed because it gives me the flexibility to work,? she says, ?and to do my studies when it is convenient for me.?
Dr. Beth Perry, a registered nurse and faculty member with the Athabasca University Centre for Nursing and Health Studies, agrees. ?Students are able to access all nursing courses online from anywhere at any time, and, like the majority of AU undergraduate courses, post-RNs are able to start a course on the first of any month, provided they are registered by [the] 10th day of the preceding month.? In this way, ?learners who are already working, and who may have other personal and professional commitments,? are given the opportunity to complete their BN.
The flexibility of the program also forces students to build positive study skills: it ?requires students to be self disciplined and motivated to complete courses in a timely manner,? explains Dr. Perry. Philbric says that AU BN students must develop ?tremendous self-discipline and the ability to be a self-starter. You have [to] love to read, and be responsible for your own learning.?
And when asked if classes delivered at a distance can really be applicable to a career as hands-on as nursing, both Philbric and Dr. Perry reply with a resounding yes.
Dr. Perry explains that to gain admittance to the post-RN Bachelor of Nursing program, students must have already completed a diploma in nursing, and must be practicing, registered nurses. ?Hence, all post-RN BN program students are practicing registered nurses and we believe that we have developed courses that apply directly to current nursing practice.?
She goes on to describe how in Nursing 432: Management and Leadership in Nursing Practice, for example, students are encouraged ?to complete activities in their workplace that help them to achieve certain learning objectives . . . They may be asked to discuss certain leadership scenarios and case studies with their work colleagues, or to complete a self-assessment based on their involvement in a committee in their workplace. In these ways the students are able to apply their real-life issues and situations to their academic learning.?
Philbric thinks that ?the program is very relevant to nurses who are seeking their undergraduate degree . . . The physical assessment class and research classes are essential. The other classes have varying applicability depending on what you do, but all are still helpful.?
Her AU BN classes also helped prepare Philbric for further studies: they have ?served as an excellent foundation for my master’s program,? she says.
AU’s Bachelor of Nursing is certainly much more than a ?risky? way of ?handing [out] Athabasca sheepskins.? The Centre for Nursing and Health Studies is a ?strong and popular nursing department that has been offering both undergraduate and graduate nursing programs for many years.? And as for AU post-RN BN program graduate Philbric, she would ?highly recommend AU’s BN program to anyone,? and believes that ?many universities would do well to emulate AU’s programs.?