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The Tennessee Board of Nursing on Thursday approved a step in Lee University's plan to get into nursing education.
The board OK'd the university's letter of intent to develop a four-year curriculum for a bachelor of science degree in nursing and a separate program to allow registered nurses to complete bachelor's degrees, said Dr. Carolyn Dirksen, vice president of academic affairs.
"It's a wonderful feeling," Dirksen said Thursday evening. "We've wanted to do this at Lee for a long time, but we had to make sure we were absolutely ready in terms of our infrastructure ... to offer a quality program."
The four-year bachelor of nursing degree "really prepares [nursing students] more for management," Dirksen said.
The program for registered nurses to complete their bachelor's will meet a trend toward more stringent requirements in "magnet hospitals," she said.
The university already has posted an ad for a program director on its website.
Lee public information director Brian Conn said the new direction is an extension of the growth in both the building and programs of the natural sciences and mathematics department.
Now, he said, people interested in nursing careers can only complete their pre-nursing curriculum at Lee, but had to go elsewhere for the degree.
"We've been trying to get to the place where we can offer something excellent to that group of people," Conn said.
Dirksen said Lee did a feasibility study and officials believe the program won't compete for students with nursing tracks at Cleveland State, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Southern Adventist University or Chattanooga State.
For instance, she said, UTC has about 500 pre-nursing students, but only admits 40 each year to its nursing program.
"There are a lot of students who would be qualified but don't get in," she said.
Lee's plan calls for the curriculum to be developed over the summer and approved by the board of nursing in February.
The first students should start class in the fall of 2014, she said.
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