Board of Visitors discusses new online nursing degree program at U.Va-Wise

College at Wise Committee also expresses interest in establishment of a nurse practitioner program


U.Va-Wise Chancellor Donna Henry was in attendance and delivered the report on the College at Wise.

Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

The Board of Visitors Committee on the University of Virginia’s College at Wise met Thursday morning to consider new academic initiatives at U.Va.-Wise. The Committee discussed the proposed implementation of a new online nursing degree program at U.Va.-Wise and the establishment of a nurse practitioner program.

Should the program be online program be approved and implemented, the existing diploma track would phased out, and U.Va.-Wise would host the only Bachelor's of Science in Nursing program in Southwest Virginia. The program is slated to launch in January 2019, although it is currently pending approval from the University Board of Visitors, which will consider approving the program at its Friday meeting. 

The Registered Nurse to Bachelor's of Science in Nursing program at U.Va-Wise began in 1993, but was placed on hiatus in 2010 due to decreased enrollment because of scheduling conflicts among working nurses. During the hiatus, the program went through a process of evaluation and renovation. 

In 2014, a revamped, fully online program track was approved by U.Va.-Wise faculty. The new program is intended for students who are already licensed nurses and have an associate degree or diploma in nursing and is characterized by updated curriculum to reflect current developments in the field of nursing. However, “staffing issues due to faculty turnover” delayed the launch of the program. 

Cathie Collins, department chair of nursing at U.Va.-Wise, said the new program would be completely administered through online coursework. 

“[The online format] is much more agreeable to working RNs,” Collins said. “The new BSN program would be entirely online through Moodle, Wise’s existing online course system. The courses for the program have been developed by current U.Va.-Wise faculty, and many will undergo training to be able to teach the courses online for the program.” 

To fill the educational void existing in the nursing field of Southwest Virginia, the proposed curriculum for the program adds an emphasis on health and assessment in rural Appalachia. This addition will “ensure that students are well-versed in the unique problems of the populations they will likely serve,” according to a presentation given during the meeting. 

Beyond the current BSN initiative, the concept of possibly establishing a nurse practitioner program at U.Va-Wise was briefly mentioned by committee members, although no formal action was taken on the matter. 

Whittington Clement, a member of the College at Wise Committee, said the program would be an important service to Southwest Virginia.

“What an area like Southwest Virginia lacks are physicians or nurse practitioners,” Clement said. “The endgame for me would be producing nurse practitioners at U.Va.-Wise.” 

According to U.Va Nursing, a nurse practitioner program prepares students to exercise well-rounded personal and professional skills as an operative nurse in the medical field. 

Rick Shannon, the University’s executive vice president for health affairs, said that U.Va.-Wise also intends to build a primary care facility on-site, employing a full-time nurse and nurse practitioner. This facility will also serve as a space for training future nurse practitioners. The driving force behind this decision was a desire to provide convenient access to healthcare for members of the U.Va-Wise community.

“We need to ensure convenient access to care,” Shannon said. “It does not exist today.” 

Administrators from the College at Wise and leaders of the University Health System have already approved the funding and implementation of the facility, and planning for the project is expected to move forward. 

Shannon also said that the facility would not be a major investment but would require startup costs, estimated to be about $46,000, including costs to renovate the building and install technology necessary to run a primary care facility.

Shannon’s report to the Committee on the cost of the facility stated that the minimum cost would be approximately $273,000 for the first year. This cost would be comprised of the startup costs and $236,000 allotted to yearly faculty salaries.

“This is an idea we literally stumbled upon, this was not in anyone’s strategic plan,” Shannon said. “The growing partnership between U.Va. and Wise allows us to do more and more of these things.”  

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