Among the more than five thousand undergraduate seniors eagerly anticipating graduation in June, four students have purposefully chosen to extend their DePaul careers by one more year. Part of a new 3 + 2 combined degree program, these students will receive two degrees in just five years: a bachelor’s in Health Sciences and a master’s in Generalist Nursing.
For Karolina Ptasinski, who fell in love with the nurse’s role while working as a tech in hospice care and then at Advocate Illinois Masonic, the 3 + 2 program presents a unique opportunity to enter into the field with a higher degree. “Many of my friends are seniors and will graduate this year,” notes Ptasinski, “but going to school for one more year and getting your master’s doesn’t sound like a bad deal!”
In recent years, there were not many options for DePaul undergraduates like Ptasinski who already knew they were interested in a career in nursing. Although nursing education at DePaul was once dominated by baccalaureate degree programs, the early 2000’s witnessed the creation and subsequent explosion in popularity of the first graduate entry to practice program in the state of Illinois, commonly known as the Master’s Entry to Nursing Practice (MENP) program. Over the next several years, the master’s program would grow so popular as to overshadow and eclipse the baccalaureate program, which closed in 2010 due to low enrollment even as the MENP program was witnessing year after year of record enrollment numbers.
Tara Winkelmann, another of the first cohort of 3 + 2 students, recalls wanting to come to DePaul but being worried about the lack of an undergraduate nursing program. “By the end of my Freshman year, they were talking about the 3+2 program. The minute I heard that, I knew that’s what I was going to do.” Winkelmann, a senior, currently takes a full load of graduate level courses which will count towards both her undergraduate and graduate degrees.
“In essence, it’s a seamless way to progress from undergrad to grad,” says Dr. Barbara Harris, Associate Director of the MENP program. “It allows the students to more quickly obtain both the bachelor’s and master’s and prepare for nursing practice.” The trick, as Dr. Harris explains, is in keeping the undergraduate elective hours open. “The students then use those elective hours for their first year of the nursing program.”
The 3 + 2 program is representative of a broader trend within DePaul, in which educators are working to create a number of academic programs that provide accelerated entry into various field while also offering significant cost savings. The added speed of the 3 + 2 program does come with a tradeoff: undergraduates need to complete all of their general degree requirements within their first three years.
Ptasinski credits her advisor for helping her to stay on course. “Freshman year I did all of my bio and gen-eds, sophomore year was chem and gen-eds, and last year was organic chemistry and health classes.”
It’s a more challenging schedule than many undergraduates are used to, but Ollie Urbanski, another Senior 3 + 2 student, believes it prepared her for life as a graduate student. “Having to take two to three science classes with labs at the same time during undergrad was a really good character building experience. I knew going in that grad school would be extra work, but mentally I was prepared.”
“DePaul students who go to undergrad here seem to do very well in our graduate programs,” says Dr. Harris, who has little doubt that the 3 + 2 students will fare well. Even still, additional support structures were put in place to assist 3 + 2 students in making the transition to graduate work. For example, all 3 + 2 students enroll in NSG 393, a new course designed to assist students in developing successful writing and studying skills.
The support of faculty and advisors makes a big difference too. “Everyone is out there to help you. I wasn’t expecting that in grad school,” says Winkelmann. “I’ve been so supported that I know that if I need help I can easily get it.”
For their part, the 3 + 2 students do not seem at all phased to join a cohort of nursing students that includes adult learners with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. According to Urbanski, “It’s actually really inspiring and helpful to have a diverse group of students.” And with the addition of the 3 + 2 program, there’s now one more avenue that DePaul students can take to join the nursing profession.