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Nursing Graduate Shares Story at State House

Effort Supports State's Drive to Create Highly Educated Workforce

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From left: Richard Freeland, Massachusetts commissioner of higher education; Pat Crombie, project director of the Massachusetts Action Coalition; Jessica Alvarez-Montano;  David Cedrone, associate commissioner for Economic and Workforce Development; Lt. Gov. Murray; and Sharon Gale, chief executive officer of the Organization of Nurse Leaders of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

By Karen Angelo

Nurses with advanced degrees have the potential to transform the health-care system. Because they’ve worked closely with patients and have scientific understanding of care processes, they’re uniquely qualified to do things like coordinate complex care for patients and bridge the gap between coverage and access. 

But earning that advance degree can be a challenge, says recent graduate Jessica Alvarez-Montano, who shared her story with state dignitaries and members of the nursing community in the Nurses Hall at the State House in August.

“I worked full-time as an registered nurse case manager while raising my children and taking courses to earn my bachelor of science nursing degree at UMass Lowell,” said Alvarez-Montano at the event. “As a Latina, bilingual, culturally sensitive and, most important, a registered nurse, my passion is to continue acquiring knowledge to be able to offer my patients the best care in any type setting and with the hopes to become a nurse educator for a new generation.” 

Alvarez-Montano, who graduated in May 2012 with honors from the RN to BS degree program, was asked by the Massachusetts Action Coalition to share her personal story. At the same event, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray announced that Massachusetts was one of nine states to receive a $300,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to support academic progression in nursing. A 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine recommended that 80 percent of nurses be educated at the BSN level or higher. Currently, 55 percent of the state’s nurses hold bachelor of science in nursing degrees or above. 

The funds will help the Massachusetts Action Coalition, co-led by the Department of Education and the Organization of Nurse Leaders of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, develop seamless academic progressions for employed and newly credentialed nurses through accelerated educational pathways. 

Alvarez-Montano’s story highlighted the issues that the grant will help to solve. 

She gave up a lucrative banking career in 2001 and began her schooling at Middlesex Community College, earning her associate's degree in 2005. Within weeks of graduation, she passed the licensing exam and was offered a full-time position. At the same, she applied for the RN to BS program at UMass Lowell and was accepted. But the completion of the degree took six years. During this time, she was caring for three children and worked full-time as an RN case manager to support her family.

“I was faced with being a single parent because my spouse who is in the military was deployed overseas twice,” she said. 

Even though her employer encouraged continuing education by providing flexible hours and a tuition reimbursement program, the cost to complete at least two classes per semester outweighed the assistance she received.

“I was challenged again when my employer denied 70 percent of my tuition reimbursement because the majority of the cost is listed as operating and miscellaneous fees,” she said. 

As a result, she could only complete one class per semester and at times she would defer a semester to allow herself time to financially recuperate. She pursued scholarships and grants, but found that none were available for a working nurse and the majority of theses funds are available only to pre-licensure students. 

Says Alvarez-Montano: “As a student at UMass Lowell, I was able to achieve my goals with the help, support and guidance of the faculty. With much support from our representatives I hope to reach my future goal in returning to UMass Lowell to acquire a master’s degree in nursing.”

Supporting Workforce Development for Nurses