New UI, Kirkwood nursing partnership hopes to increase the number of nurses with BSNs

The RN to BSN 3+1 program provided online through the UI’s College of Nursing allows Kirkwood nursing graduates to work locally while pursuing their bachelor’s degree.


Rebecca F. Miller

UI College of Nursing Dean Julie Zerwic is interviewed at a 3+1 signing ceremony at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022.

Sydney Libert, News Reporter

A recent partnership between Kirkwood Community College and the University of Iowa’s College of Nursing will allow registered nursing graduates from Kirkwood to seamlessly transfer to the College of Nursing to complete their Bachelor of Science.

The agreement, called RN to BSN 3+1, permits students who finish the registered nursing program at Kirkwood to earn their BSN in a single year through the UI College of Nursing’s online RN-BSN program.

The eight-course program’s clinical location flexibility allows Kirkwood nursing students to work in their communities while completing their bachelor’s degrees. The program aims to enhance the care nurses can provide amid increasing national demand in the field.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for registered nurses is expected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031. The increased demand for nurses, however, does not match the number of nurses entering the field.

In a survey conducted by the American Nurses Foundation, 89 percent indicated that their organization is experiencing a staffing shortage.

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Additionally, 52 percent of nurses surveyed intend to leave or considered leaving the nursing profession. When analyzed by age, 63 percent of nurses under the age of 35 said they intend to leave or are considering leaving nursing, while 43 percent of nurses are 55 or older.

Although students can become registered nurses with an associate degree and by passing a licensing exam, hospitals and clinics typically prefer nurses with BSN degrees.

During Tuesday’s signing ceremony on Kirkwood’s main campus in Cedar Rapids, UI College of Nursing Dean Julie Zerwic addressed the multiple benefits of equipping nurses with the skills taught through a BSN.

“Research shows that baccalaureate-prepared nurses are exposed to competencies including health policy, leadership, evidence-based practice, and systems thinking,” Zerwic said. “They achieve skills in teamwork, research, collaboration, and they’re equipped to function in the increasingly complex world of healthcare”.

By making the program accessible online, Zerwic said students can overcome barriers that typically prevent them from pursuing their bachelor’s, like financial issues, time, and work-life balance.

“We know that when these partnerships are in place with community colleges, we see a higher number of students continuing their education without stopping … it is much harder for students or for nurses if they’ve stepped out [to] get that energy to come back to school,” Zerwic said.

For Kirkwood’s Dean of Nursing Kathy Dolter, the program proposes a solution to meet the local demand for nurses and the needs of students.

“[Students becoming registered nurses] need to make money to support themselves and their families,” Dolter said. “Working full time in their communities supports the nursing shortage and also helps them achieve [the] financial and educational goals they have.”

Ashley Moore, a Kirkwood student who will graduate with an associate degree in December, plans to work as a bedside nurse at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital while participating in the RN to BSN 3+1 program.

“There are a lot of students in the nursing programs who are not traditional students. Sometimes [students] are fresh out of high school, but other times they’re working adults with kids,” Moore said. “Having the program, I think, would make things a lot easier on those students, to be able to have that opportunity available without struggling to accommodate family and needing to work like a lot of Kirkwood students [do].”

As she nears graduation, Moore said she is excited to work as a nurse while studying at the UI.

“I’m really happy that it’s going to take less time for me to get to that goal of my BSN,” she said. “I think it will get a lot of highly trained nurses to the bedside faster.”

By building upon her nearly-completed Kirkwood education, Moore said she recognizes the additional skills she will receive through her bachelor’s degree.

“[Patients] are going to get really knowledgeable nurses taking care of them, which is what I think most people like to have,” she said. “I would want someone really knowledgeable and highly skilled and also compassionate providing care for me or my loved one.”