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MCLA Announces Berkshire County’s First Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing Program

NORTH ADAMS — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) will launch a four-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program for the fall 2023 semester. This will be the first BSN program in Berkshire County and the only BSN program within an hour’s drive of the rural tri-state corner of Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York. This nursing-education initiative will help address the current and future rural nursing workforce shortages.

MCLA received final approval from the Board of Higher Education this month and received initial approval to launch a BSN in January from the Board of Registration in Nursing (BORN). The next phase of BORN approval is anticipated after MCLA graduates the first nursing cohort in 2027.

MCLA’s BSN degree can be completed over a four-year period. After accepting pre-nursing students this fall, the college will formally accept up to 25 students into the nursing major at the conclusion of their first year of study. Students must complete required pre-nursing courses in math and sciences during that first year for admission into the program. Transfer students may also apply to the nursing program during their first year of study at MCLA and transfer in non-nursing courses for consideration toward graduation. MCLA expects that the first BSN class will graduate in May 2027. At the conclusion of the program, students will be awarded a bachelor of science in nursing degree and be prepared and eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

“Nursing care in rural and remote areas is uniquely complex and diverse, necessitating educational preparation at the baccalaureate level,” said Dr. Elizabeth Fiscella, associate dean of MCLA’s new BSN program. “Rural nurses need to know how to assess situations and manage client care with the resources available. They must be flexible problem-solvers who can prioritize alternatives to match resources, time constraints, and cultural expectations — skills that are especially well-served by MCLA’s strong liberal-arts foundation — while also meeting individual client-care needs, all rooted in evidence-based nursing practice. Increasing the number of baccalaureate-prepared registered nurses to meet the demands of residents living in rural and underserved areas of Northwestern Massachusetts is critical.”

MCLA President James Birge added that “MCLA has received overwhelming positive feedback as we prepare for implementation of a bachelor of science degree in nursing. We recognize the great demand right now for nurses in Berkshire County, and we look forward to helping meet this significant need right here in our community.”

In recognition of the importance of this degree program for the Berkshires, Berkshire Health Systems (BHS), the leading healthcare provider in the county, has agreed to help MCLA fund certain program startup costs.

“Our region is not unique in experiencing healthcare-staffing challenges,” said Darlene Rodowicz, president and CEO of BHS. “However, what is special about the Berkshires is our strong portfolio of programs designed to educate and train nurses. MCLA’s nursing bachelor’s-degree program rounds our region’s offerings, including an associate degree in nursing program (ADN) at Berkshire Community College (BCC), licensed practical nurse (LPN) programs at BCC and McCann Technical School, and a nursing assistant (NA) training program at BHS. We are grateful for this community’s dedication to training the next generation of compassionate, skilled healthcare workers right here in the Berkshires.”

Brenda Cadorette, chief Nursing officer at Berkshire Medical Center (BMC), added that “educational programs like this one at MCLA are critical to helping rebuild the workforce that cares for our community, and we are eager to partner with these bachelor’s-degree students, as we already do with the existing nursing programs, to offer clinical rotations and meaningful learning experiences at BMC.”

Additionally, MCLA announced three new scholarships available to qualified applicants pursuing bachelor of nursing degrees at the college. The Dion Family Scholarship provides $5,000 per year to students pursuing a BSN, the Lisa O’Brien Nursing Scholarship provides $2,500 to $5,000 to students pursuing a BSN, and the Brian and Vikki Fairbank Berkshire Community Scholarship provides up to $5,000 to students who reside in Berkshire County and are pursuing a BSN.

The BSN program will be funded in part through a two-year, $1 million grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services. The grant will allow for curriculum development that responds to the critical workforce needs within Berkshire County and across the Commonwealth. The funds will help support faculty, a simulation-lab coordinator, the purchase of nursing journals and textbooks, nursing testing software, and Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing fees.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal has secured an additional $620,000 appropriation for the MCLA nursing program as part of the federal spending bill passed in December 2022. In its pitch for funding, Neal’s office noted that 13,500 people work in the healthcare field locally, and said the project deserved support in part because of its importance to the region’s economy.

MCLA is now accepting applications for fall 2023. To learn more and apply, visit mcla.edu/nursing.

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