A Concept-Based, Hands-On Curriculum Preparing Students for 'Real-World' Nursing in a Booming Job Market
Baby Boomers, people born from the mid-1940s through the mid-1960s, are creating a booming job market for nurses, according to Annissa Jackson, new chair of Nursing Programs at Panola College. Aging Baby Boomers have caused increased demand, with the job outlook for nurses expected to grow about 16 percent, a much faster rate than many other professions.
Annissa began her career in healthcare literally at her father’s knee. “My dad was a chaplain at a hospital while I was growing up,” she says. “I went with him often on calls. I also helped my mom and dad care for my grandmother, who had a long-term illness. I esteemed nurses and saw the profession as a high calling. In my eyes, nurses are skilled to identify the greatest needs of the needy, and meet those needs with compassion, grace, and meticulous professionalism.”
She earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Baylor University, and a master’s in nursing education from the University of Texas at Tyler. She began her career at Baylor Medical Center before moving to Waco, where she worked at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center and at Providence Medical Center, primarily with cardiac patients. In 2009, she joined the Panola College nursing faculty, and in 2014, she was named assistant chair of the Associate Degree Nursing program.
In 2015, Panola College adopted a new “concept based curriculum” or CBC. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board mandated a 60-credit hour change for associate degrees as part of an effort to encourage students to go on to obtain bachelors’ degrees. The new CBC curriculum fit well in a 60-hour curriculum.
To earn an associate degree, 60 academic semester hours are required, which includes 24 semester credit hours of general education courses and 36 semester hours of nursing courses. Previously, the ADN program required 72 academic semester hours. Jackson explains that the numbers can be confusing because the CBC curriculum continues to provide a similar number of contact hours even with the decrease in credit hours. Contact hours are the actual hours students spend in the classroom or in the laboratory working on their classes.
“We want our students to go on and get their bachelors’ degrees,” Annissa explains. “Most bachelors’ programs require about 120 semester hours, so once they complete the ADN program at Panola, they can go on to a university for the remaining 60 hours.”
Anatomy and Physiology I and II, Microbiology, General Psychology, and Life Span and Development remain key prerequisites for the program, and the semester hours for these courses are included in the 60-hour curriculum. Content from these courses is foundational for the concept based curriculum and the application of concepts across the life span.
The CBC approach to nursing education provides more time using critical thinking and teamwork. She says, “If you’re a nurse and you have a patient, regardless of the environment, and you don’t know the diagnosis, you assess them, you identify their greatest need at that time, you form a goal, you intervene, and you evaluate. That’s what a nurse does, over and over, all day long.”
That’s the heart of the concept based curriculum. Rather than sitting in classroom lectures while the instructor reviews the textbook material, nursing students spend more time in the simulation lab using teamwork and critical thinking to put those concepts to work in a real-world environment.
“Everything is application,” she explains. “With our simulation lab, we may give the students an assignment to read about a specific concept. They have the reading assignment, and then in class, we do case studies. The instructor doesn’t just lecture over the textbook. Instead, the instructor uses a concept analysis diagram and the students think through how best to approach the problem. The next step takes them into the simulation lab for real life scenarios where they have to apply the concepts to assess, identify the goal, and determine interventions and evaluate. This simulates the real-world nursing process of caring for a patient.”
Annissa stresses that while this is team-based learning, the students are evaluated and assessed individually throughout the semester. She says learning to work as a team in the care of patients prepares the students for the real-world scenarios they will face in hospitals, doctors’ offices, long-term skilled nursing facilities, and home-health agencies.
“We are on the cutting edge of this new approach to nursing education,” she says. Panola College is part of the Texas Nursing Concept Based Curriculum Consortium, a group of colleges and universities working together to refine the curriculum for maximum positive results. The Texas Nursing Concept Based Curriculum began through a grant funded by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Perkins Leadership Grant. So far, Annissa is pleased with the results.
“We started CBC in 2015, and our first students that went all the way through the CBC have just finished their state exams. What we have learned so far makes us optimistic that this approach is working well. The feedback we got from the students was that they really appreciated the simulation that enforced what was covered in the classroom, because it’s bridging what you have to know with how you put that into practice and how you critically think through a situation,” she says.
The real-world experience is vital because of the looming nursing shortage. As the population ages, many nurses who entered the profession years ago are beginning to retire. Having that experience in the simulation lab builds confidence for the new nurse, the employer, and the patients being treated.
Panola College ADN graduates who successfully pass the national exam and earn their Texas license are automatically licensed in 24 other states that are part of the Nurse Licensure Compact. To work in a non-compact state, nurses must apply for licensure through that state’s Board of Nursing. “When you become a nurse, you take the national exam. Each state’s exam may include specific questions about state laws and nursing practices, but the overall nursing questions that appear on the test are standard throughout the nation,” she adds.
Annissa says that nursing education is expanding from an “at the bedside” approach to reaching out into the community to promote prevention of disease through lifestyle changes and health education. “One study shows that only 20 percent of our health care costs are from things we can’t prevent. That means that 80 percent are from things that we can prevent through lifestyle. Many chronic disease could be prevented, delayed, or alleviated through simple lifestyle changes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that eliminating three risk factors—poor diet, inactivity, and smoking—would prevent 80 percent of heart disease and stroke, 80 percent of type 2 diabetes, and 40 percent of cancer. “We would like to begin an ongoing project with our level four students to promote healthy living in our community,” she notes.
“I see nurses as humble servants, yet they carry great responsibility with mercy, compassion, and grace. I am humbled that I am a registered nurse. Nursing education has provided a path for me to grow in my knowledge of nursing and challenged me to grow as a nurse. I continue to learn from my gifted colleagues. I hope that I can be a strong teacher and mentor for students in their journey to be professional nurses.”