The UCF College of Nursing has formed a new strategic hospital partnership with Health First, Brevard County’s largest private employer, to offer an on-site Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) degree program.

This public-private partnership meets a national objective set by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM, formerly Institute of Medicine) in its landmark “The Future of Nursing” report. The NAM recommends increasing the proportion of nurses with a baccalaureate degree to 80 percent by 2020. As nurses take on a more critical role, the goal is to create a higher educated workforce able to produce “safe, quality care and coverage for all patients.” A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that “in hospitals with higher proportions of nurses educated at the baccalaureate level or higher, surgical patients experienced lower mortality and failure-to-rescue rates.”

“Throughout its history, UCF has sought out strategic partnerships in its community to provide innovative educational opportunities,” said Dr. Mary Lou Sole, dean at the UCF College of Nursing. “By partnering with Health First, we are able to answer a national call for more BSN-educated nurses and make it easier for RNs in Brevard County to obtain an advanced degree.”

To increase its BSN-prepared workforce, Health First will offer classroom space for the UCF program at its education center in Melbourne and will help fund a faculty member to serve as an instructor and advisor for the program. Additionally, Health First recently increased its tuition benefit for eligible associates and the Health First Foundation is offering scholarship opportunities to cover tuition.

“We are pleased to be able to provide our nursing associates convenient access to the nationally ranked program at UCF,” said Connie Bradley, DNP, RN, FACHE, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Health First. “This is an exciting partnership that will benefit not only our nurses, but also the communities we serve by providing a higher percentage of BSN-prepared nurses to care for our patients and members across our integrated delivery network.”

UCF has been educating Brevard County nurses for more than 30 years at its Cocoa campus, and is the first and only public institution to offer a BSN degree in the county. The traditional BSN program is offered in a classroom setting, while the RN to BSN is the first in the state to be offered fully online.

Through the Health First partnership, the traditionally online RN to BSN will be taught in a hybrid format of face-to-face classroom and online classes to ease students into the program. Another unique aspect of the program is that it is designed to provide a cohort of students to complete the program together. The program will be open to all RNs in the community, not just those employed by Health First. Prospective students may apply September 1 – October 1. Classes will begin in spring 2016.