Rebecca Robertson and Denise Sipala have more than 60 years of combined experience as registered nurses. Last year, they added Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to their credentials through Christiana Care’s pre-paid tuition program, which supports the health system’s nurses as they earn additional academic degrees in nursing.

Currently, 67 percent of the more than 2,500 nurses at Christiana Care have a BSN degree or higher. That number is expected to grow as new nurses hired at are now committing to obtain their degree within three years. Nurses already employed at Christiana Care who wish to transfer to another department now also commit to earning a BSN degree.

“Our goal is to have 80 percent of our nurses BSN-prepared by 2020,” said Michelle L. Collins, MSN, APRN, CNS, RN-BC, ACNS-BC, director of Nursing Professional Development and Education. “This is in keeping with our standards as a Magnet organization and aligns with the educational goal endorsed by the Institute of Medicine’s Future of Nursing report.”

Research demonstrates that care provided by nurses with a BSN contributes to better outcomes for patients. Nurses Robertson and Sipala both work in the open-heart stepdown unit at Christiana Hospital. They enrolled in an accelerated RN-to-BSN program at Immaculata University, where tuition is prepaid by Christiana Care. Classes were conveniently located in Newark.

“I have four children, and I waited until my youngest hit high school,” Robertson said. She joined classmates ranging in age from 27 to 60. “I told my family that they were going to have to do their own laundry and cook their own meals one night a week while I was earning my degree.”

Sipala was inspired by coworkers who already had obtained degrees. “When I heard my nursing colleagues talk about the ease with which they did it and how much it enhanced their careers, I wanted to do it,” she said. “I have always enjoyed being a bedside nurse, and getting my degree gives me a better view of patient-centered care and evidence-based practice.”

In addition to nursing courses, the curriculum included such electives as Spanish and history. Both nurses gained a deep sense of satisfaction from achieving their goals and valued the tuition benefit that supported them.

Christiana Care offers a prepay program for nurses pursuing bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in nursing at Drexel University, Immaculata University, University of Delaware and Wilmington University. Christiana Care pays full tuition for qualified nurses enrolled at these schools. If nurses choose to go to another school, Christiana Care provides tuition reimbursement.

“When nurses contact us about continuing their education, we partner with them every step of the way — from outlining a plan to reach their academic goals to help arranging precepted experiences,” said Staff Education Specialist Jennifer Painter, MSN, APRN, CNS, OCN, AOCNS. “We are here to support our nurses in their professional development. It’s the best thing to do — the right thing to do.”

Promoting education and advancement supports the exceptional people who work at Christiana Care and the patients they serve, said Audrey C. Van Luven, senior vice president and chief human resources officer. “We are committed to advancing our nurses’ professional development in their pivotal roles as partners with patients and their families,” she said.

“When other nurses ask me about this. I encourage them to go for it,” Sipala said. “No matter what your career intentions are, it’s well worth it.”