Q&A with Susan Sims-Giddens, Program Director for the Online RN to BSN at Missouri State University

Q: What is your current position?

I am the director of the RN to BSN program at Missouri State University and an associate professor. I have a doctoral degree in educational leadership and a master's in both nursing and education. I began working at Missouri State in 1998.

Q: What can students expect from MSU's RN to BSN program?

Students can expect to meet with me at the start of their program to determine a plan of study. Students don't need to have taken all their general education courses before beginning their RN to BSN program. They can expect their courses to be online. In the RN to BSN program, all of their courses are facilitated through Blackboard and Blackboard is available 24/7.

Students can begin their program in the spring, summer or fall. They can take the number of credit hours that best fit into their schedule. About 98 percent of our students work full-time and have other family obligations. We want our students to be successful, earn their baccalaureate degrees and have a good foundation if they choose to pursue graduate degrees.

Q: Why should someone consider pursuing an RN to BSN completion program?

What's happening in health care now is that a lot of hospitals are seeking Magnet Status. Magnet standards indicate that nurses need to have, at minimum, a baccalaureate degree. That's what many hospitals are now asking for and where health care is going.

Students in the RN to BSN program are able to work and go back to school part-time to finish their baccalaureate degrees.

Q: How does the online program differ from an on campus RN to BSN?

If students want to come to campus, there are some courses they can complete in the classroom. For most students, though, the online program fits more easily into their family and work lives.

Q: What are the most important factors students need to consider when choosing an RN to BSN program?

Students should consider their level of access to faculty. They need to feel comfortable with the program, know the expectations, course load and cost. Students should speak with the director of their program - this is all true whether you're on campus or online. You want to have access and feel like you can ask questions.

Q: What kind of preparation do you look for in students applying to your program?

Our students come in having graduated from an associate degree program. Most of them have taken their NCLEX licensing exam. Students do not have to do any kind of prerequisites to come into the program, but at MSU, we do ask them to complete an application, give us a copy of their license, have professional liability insurance, and complete a drug screening and background check. We also ask for immunization records. This is typical across the board because community agencies and care centers want to know that our students will be able to complete clinical hours in their facilities safely.

Q: What are the benefits of pursuing the RN to BSN online?

Convenience is probably one of the biggest benefits for students. The flexibility of an online program is an attractive factor for many of our students.

Q: What are some of the potential challenges?

There are some online degrees that I think employers do look at skeptically; however, students in our RN to BSN program can be assured that we are accredited through a national accrediting agency. We have CCNE accreditation. Anytime a student is looking at an online program, he or she needs to make sure it is accredited through a national accrediting body.

A potential challenge is the fact that a student's life doesn't stop just because he or she is in school. Sometimes students think they can take more credit hours than what is reasonable. When I meet with a student, I work with him or her to figure out a doable course load given other obligations. I want our students to be successful - if they are stressed and consequently not doing well in class, we're not helping them reach their ultimate goal of finishing their education.

Q: Why is continuing education in nursing important?

Our knowledge is advancing and unless we can keep up with it, we cannot provide the best care for our patients. We have new products, medications, policies, and procedures. We have to make sure that we are meeting society's changing needs and best practice guidelines. Continuing education helps students keep up with all these changes and become more marketable to advance in their careers.

Q: What kind of developments have there been in MSU's RN to BSN completion program recently?

We review our program on an annual basis. We keep up with new accreditation guidelines and continually review and update our program content. Obviously with the aging of our population, it is very important for us to have information on end of life care, elder care, geriatrics, genetics, and genomics. Also, we need to teach cultural competence because our demographics are changing. We are way ahead of the curve in providing up-to-date content and make sure that our students graduate with a really good foundation.

About 50 percent of our graduates go on to pursue their master's degree and of those students, 40-50 percent go on to doctoral studies within five years.

Q: What do you see for the future of the program?

The program is growing. We have a good reputation, and our students speak well for us. Our students are in a lot of different areas, all over the world.

Q: Any other advice for students applying to MSU's RN to BSN program?

If students are interested in an RN to BSN, they need to look at a variety of programs and ask questions. I welcome phone calls and emails. I always tell my students that there is never a silly question.