The Ladder of Success
Earning successive nursing degrees at St. Kate's helps "laddering" students gain the credentials — and jobs — they desire.
By Melissa Kaelin
A friend and fellow nursing student at St. Catherine University first suggested to Twila Klasen '12 that she could be a nurse practitioner by the time she turned 30.
Klasen was skeptical, having just entered St. Catherine's associate degree program after earning an LPN from a community college. But, with her friend's encouragement and the support of Assistant Professor of Nursing Karen Sund, Klasen propelled herself forward. She finished the LPN-to-RN program on St. Kate's Minneapolis campus in 2008. Soon after, she enrolled in the University's Weekend and Evening Program to earn a bachelor's degree.
"When I graduated with my RN and passed my boards, there were some jobs. But the hospital job that I wanted wasn't there," Klasen explains.
Klasen's decision to further her nursing education — thereby increasing her qualifications and odds for higher-paid employment — is known as "laddering." The practice has its roots in a national trend that came to Minnesota in the late 1990s.
In 1994, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) announced the first hospital in the United States to achieve magnet status — an official recognition of quality patient care and nursing excellence. Three years later, the first hospital in Minnesota achieved magnet status, and since then, many hospitals across the state have worked to implement the magnet model.
To qualify for magnet status, a hospital must provide evidence of nursing leadership across all departments and require a certain percentage of its nurses to be educated at the baccalaureate level.
Magnet hospitals mirror the recommendations published by the Institute of Medicine in 2010 — which call for healthcare organizations to increase the proportion of nurses with at least a bachelor's degree to 80 percent by 2020. That means more nurses may have to return to college if they want to land — and keep — the choicest jobs.
ROAD TO SUCCESS
Klasen graduated cum laude from the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at St. Kate's in July 2011 and immediately saw her career prospects shift. She was offered a position in the pediatric float pool at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital — a place where she had tried to work before. With BSN in hand, she soon set her sights on a higher goal.
"When a provider gives advice, patients tend to follow that," she says.
Intent on becoming a provider herself, Klasen entered the Master of Arts in Nursing program at St. Kate's last September. She chose the pediatric nurse practitioner program as her specialty. "The motivation isn't money," Klasen says. "I definitely want more intelligence and wisdom. I want to be a well-rounded nurse."
Nursing Graduate Programs Director Kathleen Smith, RN, DNP '11 encourages all of her students at St. Kate's to obtain a bachelor's degree, at minimum — whether they complete their degrees in one eight-year stretch or take breaks between degrees.
"As we think about the future needs of our patients, we will need individuals to be academically prepared at higher levels," Smith says. "Some research has shown that patients have better outcomes when they are cared for by nurses with a baccalaureate degree."
Smith, who graduated from the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at St. Kate's in December, says higher-level nursing degrees open doors for graduates. "Our nursing programs allow an individual to take a stepped approach," she says. "We're one of the few programs that have associate to clinical doctorate options."
Klasen appreciates the focused and individualized attention in the nursing programs at St. Kate's. "My associate's degree program had a lot of tutoring support and one-on-one connections with the teachers," she says. "They wanted me to do well, and that continued through the bachelor's degree. I feel like I can be an individual here."
MOVING ON UP
Adno Gatah '12 also laddered her nursing degrees at St. Kate's, obtaining her associate's degree in 2009 and her BSN in 2011. She is now in the master's program studying to be a pediatric nurse practitioner. "I had such wonderful mentors and I thought, 'Why not keep going?'" she says.
"Some of them have no insurance, some of them do not speak the language, some of them are refugees," says Gatah, who hails from Somalia. "When I see such disparity, I really want to be a nurse practitioner. Hopefully, with my master's degree I will be able to see my work through a different lens."
Many laddering students feel a strong sense of pride in the nursing programs offered at St. Catherine. "St. Kate's is so focused on diversity, on women's leadership and holistic health," Klasen says. "That's the kind of nurse I want to be."
Klasen was so pleased with her first laddering experience at St. Kate's that there was no competition when it came to choosing where she would study for her master's degree. Because she is enrolled in the Weekend and Evening Program, Klasen has been able to complete her courses while working nearly full time and caring for her two children.
Klasen was raised on the Leech Lake Reservation outside of Bemidji. The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe is providing partial financial support as she completes her master's degree, and in exchange, Klasen hopes to provide healthcare to the community.
"I would like to go back for a few years at least and work to help the community with diabetes, weight management and just acute care," Klasen says. "The access to healthcare there is really poor and children are really sick."
Only an insider can reach out to the Ojibwe community in a meaningful way, she believes. Residents of the reservation may not trust strangers who urge them to change their health habits — even if it's for their own good. "Someone from within the community needs to direct and lead people," she says. "Since I'm from there, I think I have the opportunity and possibility to make huge changes."
Melissa Kaelin is multimedia communications specialist in the Office of Marketing and Communications at St. Catherine University.