Feb. 27-March 11, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 4
Back Issues
Think About It
Greenberg: Brown Helped break segregationist South
Medical Center operating in black
Headlines @ U.Va.
‘Homegrown’ administrator credits mentoring in career success
Faculty Senate turns its attention to matters of honor, money
He’s no dummy
Online master’s program trains nurse leaders from underserved rural areas
What About the Children?
Discovering new life at the bottom of the sea
Leap year has U.Va.’s zip code
Francesca Fuchs
Research yields benefits, mankind, marketplace
Online master’s program trains nurse leaders from underserved rural areas
Janice Drum (right) of Galax, Va., and Erin Cruise of Dublin, Va., are both nursing students enrolled in U.Va.’s online master’s degree program.
Photo by Dan Heuchert
Janice Drum (right) of Galax, Va., and Erin Cruise of Dublin, Va., are both nursing students enrolled in U.Va.’s online master’s degree program.

By Dan Heuchert

Erin Cruise, who supervises the school health program in Montgomery County, has long sought a master’s degree in nursing.

“A lot of people see me as a resource,” she said. “I thought I needed more education.”

The problem: with a staff of eight part-timers serving 9,000 students at 22 schools, there wasn’t much time left over on weekdays to enroll in a full-time master’s program. And with her own parents to care for, even her after-hours time was precious.

“I thought I might have to make a choice between quitting my job and getting my master’s,” she said.

The solution: The School of Nursing’s new online master’s program. Cruise could work at her Dublin home at night and on weekends, while making only two day trips to Charlottesville per semester.

The program was funded by a three-year, $693,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration. Charlottesville-based professors redesigned and enhanced their curriculum for online use, assigning readings, papers, exams and online discussions. Students and professors interacted with one another via a commercial software package.

The two-year program should be especially helpful for nurses like Cruise, who work full-time in often-underserved rural areas, said Doris Glick, an associate professor of nursing and director of the master’s program.

Despite some reservations about the perceived quality of online versus in-person education, Cruise joined the program’s charter seven-member class this fall. An additional seven students are signed up to begin in the spring semester.

The quality of the education has been a pleasant — and challenging — surprise, Cruise said. “It’s different. You don’t have the visual contact, the intuitive feeling that you get from a live person, but we have had some really fascinating discussions. I have learned so much.”

Said Glick, “The quality of the program is the same as the regular in-class program — the same admissions requirements, the same course requirements.”

The school offers two of its five master’s tracks online: community and public health leadership, and health systems management. Both have incorporated concepts of emergency preparedness, Glick said.

The classes are also open to master’s students in residence as an alternative to the traditional classroom-based format, and many have taken advantage of the option.

Glick taught one of the new online courses this fall, “Epidemiology in Health Care.” After years of teaching in the classroom, she found the online medium to be “an interesting challenge,” she said.

The feedback from students has been excellent thus far, she said, and the interaction has been as good as, or better than, classroom discussions. “If I ask a class a question, they respond in a short period of time,” she noted. “If I ask online, they take their time to answer, and the answers are usually better thought-out.”

Like Cruise, online student Janice Drum of Galax, who manages the emergency department at Twin Counties Regional Hospital, had her doubts about the quality of online offerings. “I had always been skeptical about online programs. People don’t think you get the same quality of education.

“But it has been difficult, very challenging,” she said. “It’s been wonderful — so intellectually stimulating.”

A master’s degree has been a personal and professional goal for years, said Drum, 54. But attending classes in person would be “impossible” while managing 21 nurses and 13 emergency beds, she said.

She hopes a master’s degree will re-energize her career. “I want to stay in management, and I want to at least explore the opportunities for executive management in nursing. I love nursing, and I want to see it advance.”


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