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Master’s program helps professionals transition to nursing careers

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PHOENIX – Watching nurses care for her father after he had a stroke compelled Jessy Bellerose to rethink her career after 10 years as a elementary school teacher.

“I felt so inept, and when I saw what the nurses do I knew that was what I needed to do,” said Bellerose, who spent weeks at her father’s bedside before he died.

Now, only 15 months after she began her coursework to become a registered nurse, Bellerose is studying for her licensing exam and seeking a job taking care of babies in an intensive care nursery.

“I love children, but I just can’t resist the babies,” she said.

Bellerose recently was among the first 16 Phoenix-based master’s students to graduate from an accelerated University of Arizona College of Nursing program that gave credit for her bachelor’s degree and professional experience.

Offering the Master’s Entry into the Profession of Nursing in Phoenix adds to a program that’s been available in Tucson for several years to help people with college degrees make the transition.

“It made sense to offer these individuals an advanced, accelerated degree since they already had a track record of being able to take a lot of information, absorb it quickly and apply it in practice,” said Terry Badger, professor and director of the college’s Community & Systems Health Science Division.

The first Phoenix graduates also hold degrees in veterinary science, education, anthropology, exercise science, law, philosophy, biology and anatomy.

It’s the only program of its kind in Arizona, according to the Arizona State Board of Nursing and Arizona Nurses Association.

In 2011, the American Association of the Colleges of Nursing endorsed advanced master’s programs as a way to create nursing graduates better positioned to care for sicker patients in a more complicated health care system.

“Advanced nursing degrees such as our master’s program translate into higher quality patient care for Arizonans,” Badger said.

Each graduate receives 1,000 hours of clinical training instead of the usual 750 hours in many bachelor’s programs. The Phoenix students received most of their training at Maricopa Medical Center, part of the Maricopa Integrated Health System.

Sherry Stotler, chief nursing officer for the Maricopa Integrated Health System, said that bringing people with different experiences to the bedside helps providers solve health care delivery challenges.

“These students think differently because of their previous occupations,” she said.

“For example, we had a student with an engineering background who brought a whole new approach to a problem we were tackling,” Stotler said.

Bellerose said the accelerated program was very difficult, especially since she has three children.

“You essentially put your life on hold,” she said.

Victoria Yanez was raising a family and running several home businesses when she decided to become a nurse, also as a result of watching nurses care for a family member.

“I saw the difference that a nurse could make for a patient and their family, and I knew I could do this too,” she said.

Yanez, who has a law degree, said she decided on UA’s program because it was a quick way to become a registered nurse and earn a master’s degree.

“I thought to myself, ‘Why get an associate degree instead of a bachelor’s, and why get a bachelor’s instead of a master’s,’ especially since I could do it in 15 months,” she said.

Yanez said that older students have life experiences that make them think differently.

“We have been decision-makers and problem-solvers for our families and on our jobs for years, and now we just do that same thing for our patients and their families,” she said.