At a rate equivalent to roughly one credit per week, students eat, sleep and dream about nursing for 12 months straight as they diligently persevere through the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s one-of-a-kind Accelerated Online Bachelor’s to BSN Option (ACCEL).
The curriculum is rigorous. The time commitment is daunting.
But the result—a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a quick start to a challenging new career—is worth it, say graduates of the unique program.
As the College of Nursing celebrated the 10th anniversary of the ACCEL option this year, it continues to serve as a fully accredited, national model for online nursing education.
“Since we launched the option a decade ago, we have graduated more than 500 new bachelor’s-prepared, registered nurses who receive rave reviews from their employers as ‘work-ready’,” said Dawn Pope, assistant director of the option.
Attorneys, dietitians, engineers, teachers and police officers have been among those seeking a nursing degree through the program.
Those admitted meet strict criteria, including a baccalaureate degree in another discipline, and agree to focus solely on the immersion learning experience, forgoing all employment during the course of study, Pope explained.
Students participate in online discussions and exercise their clinical knowledge in virtual classrooms, laboratory settings and appropriate healthcare settings. Clinical rotations are completed in the student’s home community, guided one-on-one by nurse preceptors. Students make three trips to campus during the year—an orientation weekend, a two-week boot camp clinical/lab experience and a clinical competency capstone experience at the end.
In 2003, the option was developed in response to a nationwide shortage of nurses. While that shortage has lessened in recent years, Pope said a high percentage of nurses are now nearing retirement across the country and demand for alternatives to traditional four-year nursing degrees continues.
Between 80 and 150 qualified applicants typically compete for the 30 seats available in each of two cohorts offered annually, beginning in October and May.
“It’s a challenging, intense year,” Pope said. “But our students are very motivated and they know what they want. They are dedicated to learning … real go-getters.”
Four of those hard-working, go-getters share their stories of their whirlwind year as UWO nursing students:
Nigerian-born Olufemi Ojelade ’05, of Downers Grove, Ill., applied to UWO’s ACCEL option because he wanted to combine his background in math and statistics with knowledge of healthcare.
“I was looking for a school that was affordable and a program that was flexible with what was going on at home,” he said. “The program was stressful with how much work was expected and how much knowledge you needed. It was very tough. But the faculty members were intent on the students succeeding, and they did a very good job.”
Ojelade said even though the courses were mostly online, students in the cohort got to know each other well during the boot camp. “By the last two days, we were cracking jokes. It was like we had been together forever,” he said.
Following graduation from ACCEL, Ojelade worked in an intensive care unit at a hospital. Today, he makes use of his education in both statistics and nursing in his position in information technology at Aetna, looking for ways to optimize insurance costs.
UWO’s ACCEL offered Katrina Schuh ’07, of Monroe, a way to tie her passions for education and patient care together.
“I was attracted to ACCEL due to its fast pace and the clinical component of the one-on-one nurse preceptors. I was able to apply the theoretical principles of nursing to direct patient care,” she explained. “An emphasis on evidence-based practice allowed me to research and use the best possible clinical interventions and quality outcomes for the patient population.”
Since graduating in 2007, Schuh has worked as a staff nurse in organ transplant and cardiothoracic surgeries, before becoming a traveling nurse in Arizona, California, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
“The ACCEL program prepared me well academically and clinically to be a professional registered nurse,” she said.
Encouraged by his father, a Fox Valley physician, Luke Menet ’10, of Appleton, chose the ACCEL option, after meeting with UWO faculty and staff.
“I knew that ACCEL would be a great fit for my learning style,” he said. “The program is very unique for an online program in that you receive feedback from peers and professors multiple times each day due to the pace of the curriculum. The relationship of online learning and clinical experience within the curriculum encouraged learning and application of knowledge and evidence-based practice.”
Menet found strong support among the program’s faculty and students alike.
“The faculty members have very high expectations for their students and they are unapologetic about their insistence that all students meet those expectations,” he said. “Because of the intense experience, ACCEL students learn to rely on one another for encouragement and support. During the two weeks of campus learning during boot camp, friendships are made that last beyond the duration of the program.”
Following graduation, Menet immediately was hired to work in an intensive care unit. Later, he transitioned to emergency room nursing and is furthering his education with the goal to become a nurse practitioner.
“I am grateful to the ACCEL program and faculty and feel a huge sense of wanting to give back to the program that has provided so many opportunities to me personally and professionally,” said Menet, who now serves as a clinical instructor for the college.
Courtney Campbell ’13, of Pewaukee, always knew she wanted to pursue a career in healthcare but wasn’t exactly sure what direction to take. She started off by majoring in biology at UW–Platteville, job shadowed some occupational therapists and later found that she liked the frequent interaction with patients as a certified nursing assistant.
She contemplated her options and decided to finish her biology degree at Platteville and then pursue UWO’s ACCEL program.
“It made the most sense for me,” she explained. “I liked the idea of being finished with a BSN in one year, having one-to-one clinical rotations and being able to study at home rather than on campus.”
The curriculum proved challenging.
“It was hard, and honestly, it was a love-hate roller coaster relationship,” she said. “I went through periods where I was super excited and motivated, then periods where I just wanted to be done. It was exhausting and took a lot of self-discipline.”
Campbell relied on her own motivation and a close relationship with other students in her cohort; they even formed a Facebook page.
“I don’t think any of us started the year thinking that we would make such great friends through an online program, but we definitely did.”
Today, Campbell works on a medical/surgical/pediatric/oncology unit at Aurora Sheboygan Memorial Hospital. “I love working with such a diverse group of patients because every day is different,” she said.
She said her ACCEL clinicals with “great preceptors” prepared her well for the wide variety of patients she cares for, including pre-/post-surgery, cancer and pediatric patients.
“I won’t lie. The first day of work after graduation was still scary, but I knew that if I could survive an entire nursing program in one year, I could do anything!”
Learn more about CON’s Accelerated Online Bachelor’s to BSN Program.