The New York state Department of Education has approved a new dual-degree nursing program between Siena College and Maria College.
The new four-year, 122-credit program will grant students an Associate of Science in nursing from Maria College in Albany, and a Bachelor of Science in nursing from nearby Siena College upon graduation. Dr. Lisa Lally Flack, director of nursing at Siena, says students will spend their first year at the Loudonville campus for prerequisites like “Human Anatomy & Physiology,” before making the 15-minute commute to Maria College for the next two years.
“So they’re at Maria College taking all the pre-licensure courses – but layered on top of that, we also have the upper division nursing classes," Flack explains. "So, at the end of that junior year, they’ve earned their Associate’s Degree, and they sit for the NCLEX. When they come back [to Siena] as seniors, they finish up their upper division nursing, and any core that’s remaining for the Bachelor’s.”
The NCLEX is the National Council Licensure Exam, which every student must pass in order to become a registered nurse. At Maria College, students will have access to simulation labs at its newly-upgraded McAuley teaching facility, and participate in clinical rotations at hospitals around the Capital Region. Maria College President Dr. Thomas Gamble says the school, which is sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, has been training nurses for 50 years.
“But that is successor to a 70-year history of the program at St. Peter’s Hospital," he notes. "So it’s 120 years of Mercy-inspired nursing education that we bring to the table.”
But aside from access to multiple facilities, why apply for a dual-degree program? In a later interview with WAMC, Flack said the junior-year NCLEX exam is part of what makes the new partnership stand out. While some hospitals continue the old practice of hiring nurses-to-be shortly before the exam, she says many aren’t willing to take the risk.
“Now they’re waiting until they have that NCLEX completed successfully before hiring – so our nursing students in these programs will be able to go out in the spring of their senior year and be first out of the gate, really, to get these jobs," adds Flack.
According to the “BSN in 10” law signed by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2017, nurses looking to enter the field in New York must acquire a Bachelor of Science in nursing within 10 years of passing the NCLEX. And while both Siena and Maria offer “RN to BSN” programs for working nurses looking to complete that requirement, Flack says dual-degree programs are much more convenient for new students. Siena established a similar partnership with the Belanger School of Nursing at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady in 2017 – and Flack says it’s full, with over 130 students.
“That program is primarily filled with our first-time freshman coming in, so out of high school," she notes. "The new Maria program, I see as filling the need of our internal and external transfer students that are seeking nursing whether, perhaps, they have a different major, or they’re coming from another school – and it’s a way for them to get into nursing at Siena with a Maria program.”
Experts have warned of a growing national nursing shortage as the Baby Boomers continue aging. The new program currently has eight students, and interim Siena President Dr. Margaret Madden says she’s happy to see it start accepting applications in earnest. The launch is also bittersweet, she says, as the program was close to the heart of late President Brother Edward Coughlin, who died suddenly in July at age 71.
“And I’m particularly sorry that he’s not here for this – because he worked closely with President Gamble to inspire this program, and he was keenly interested in its progress towards approval," says Madden. "So I’m thinking of Brother Ed here, and knowing that he's smiling on this occasion.”
Both private colleges are nationally accredited for their individual nursing programs. Founded in 1937 in the Franciscan and Catholic tradition, Siena College has 40 majors and more than 3,000 students. Maria College serves nearly 800 students at its campus in Albany.