Partnership with North Platte to boost number of nurses with bachelor's degrees

by Vicky Cerino
June 12, 2018

Image with caption: Juliann Sebastian, Ph.D.

Juliann Sebastian, Ph.D.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing has partnered with Great Plains Health and Mid-Plains Community College in North Platte to increase the number of registered nurses in central and west central Nebraska earning bachelor’s degrees in nursing.

The impetus: a growth in health services, rapid advances in health care, rigorous new care standards and increasingly complex technology demand more education across all nursing specialties.

Juliann Sebastian, Ph.D., dean of the UNMC College of Nursing, said the effort is a continued commitment to increasing the number of Nebraska nurses with baccalaureate and higher degrees. Nebraska’s nursing shortage is projected to grow to nearly 4,000 nurses by 2020. The goal is to boost enrollment and graduation rates, accelerate programs and better prepare students for an increasingly complex nursing environment.

Called the registered nurse to bachelor’s degree in nursing program -- RN-to-BSN -- students who enroll as part of the partnership will start and finish the online program in 12 months as a group. Students also will have access to a faculty member in North Platte once a month for support and supplementary class discussion. Faculty members from the UNMC College of Nursing Kearney Division will provide this support.

The program, which consists of six courses worth 20 credits, provides knowledge and theory in leadership, teamwork, critical thinking, health promotion, health policy, evidence-based practice, patient safety, quality improvement and population-based care.

"As our growth in health care services continues, the criticality of our patients increases and we find ourselves in greater need of nurses with advanced degrees," said Mel McNea, Great Plains Health chief executive officer. "Our board of directors not only identified a BSN nurse shortage in the region, but a nursing shortage overall, and prioritized it as a key initiative during our 2015 strategic planning process.

"We pulled together leaders from Mid-Plains Community College and the UNMC College of Nursing to help us resolve the issue. Together, we formed a steering team, did the research and came up with a plan that will help the Mid-Plains region train more nurses closer to home. Now, they will not have to quit their jobs or travel long distances to advance their education."

The steering committee, which was co-chaired by Jody Tomanek, Ph.D., of Mid-Plains Community College, and Mary Cramer, Ph.D., of the UNMC College of Nursing, published the North Platte Feasibility Final Report. The committee was made up of representatives from Great Plains Health, Mid-Plains Community College, North Platte Area Chamber and Development and the UNMC College of Nursing.

One of the report’s conclusions was that incentives alone, which are provided by hospitals throughout the region, are not making an impact toward more bachelor-prepared nurses in the 16-county mid-plains region. Data also shows up to 33 percent more BSN-prepared nurses are needed to fill a wide spectrum of nursing jobs in the region by 2024.

The report shows that only 15 percent of associate degreed nurses go on to complete a BSN degree. Some of the biggest obstacles for nurses to advance their education were funding and availability of local programs.

McNea said Great Plains Health will provide 10 full scholarships for employed RNs who wish to advance their education through the program. Mid-Plains Community College is working with Great Plains Health and the UNMC College of Nursing to ensure that students have access to prerequisite courses required by the program.

The goal is to enroll 16 students into the program. The program is open to anyone who meets criteria. The application deadline for the fall program, which will start in August, is June 30.

Cathrin Carithers, D.N.P., assistant dean of the UNMC College of Nursing Kearney Division, said she appreciates being able to help provide more opportunities for registered nurses who want to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

"This partnership with Great Plains Health and Mid-Plains Community College is innovative and will benefit Nebraskans," Dr. Carithers said. "We appreciate the passion our partners have to make this possible."

"Great Plains Health has always been fortunate to employ highly professional and caring nurses," McNea said. "With the recently expanded and high-quality advance degree nursing (RN) program currently offered at Mid-Plains Community College, the UNMC RN-to-BSN  program provides a seamless path for nurses in the region to locally advance their education."

Dr. Tomanek, Mid-Plains Community College area vice president for academic affairs, said Mid-Plains Community College is proud to be a part of this partnership with UNMC and Great Plains Health. "Not only will we provide students for this program, but we also will support the program by offering prerequisite courses to prepare students for this endeavor. This will be a great opportunity for students, employees, and health care providers in our area."

Students can register for the program through the University of Nebraska Online. For more information contact the UNMC College of Nursing, 402-559-4110, or

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Great Plains Health in North Platte, Nebraska, is a nonprofit, fully accredited, 116-bed regional referral center serving west Nebraska, northern Kansas and northern Colorado. In total, our primary and secondary service areas span 34 counties, 136,000 lives and approximately 67,832 square miles, about the size of the state of Pennsylvania. With nearly 100 physicians representing 30 medical specialties, the Great Plains Health system offers advanced medical services, including heart and vascular, cancer, orthopedic services, women's services, and a level III trauma center. The system employs approximately 1,100 employees and has more than 200 volunteers.