Laurie Johansen has been a rural nurse for a long time. She knows that rural patients bring with them a rural mindset, and tend to be independent and self-sufficient.
Johansen is a Tyler native and has a keen appreciation of what it takes to be a rural nurse.
"Most of the other programs don't address rural nursing," she said.
She graduated from Tyler High School, received her LPN from Southeast Area Vocational Technical Sioux in Sioux Falls, S.D., and, later her associate degree in nursing from the University of South Dakota. In 2004, she earned her BSN in nursing from South Dakota State and in 2007, her master's in nursing. She is currently enrolled at the University of North Dakota, nearing the end of her quest for a Ph.D. in nursing.
She began her duties at SMSU this past May. For the 30 previous years, she has been a nurse at the Tyler Healthcare Center and has been a nursing instructor at SDSU for the past 10 years.
She feels deeply about the need for the RN to BSN program in this area.
"I was drawn to this job because of the need for this program to succeed," she said.
The RN to BSN program started a year ago at SMSU with an initial fall enrollment of 17. Twenty-two students enrolled last spring semester and another 12 this fall.
"The beauty of the program is that it's created to fit the schedules of working nurses in our communities," she said. "There is a lot of flexibility built into the program."
An increasing number of health care facilities are looking for four-year BSN degree holders, she said.
"Evidence supports the belief that the quality of care is greater with bachelor-prepared nurses. Institutions are looking more and more for that educational experience," she said.
The RN to BSN major is currently seeking accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Johansen spent the summer working on the program/university self study, which is currently being submitted. A three-person site visit team will come to SMSU in mid-October for three days.
"We'll learn some time around March of 2015 if we are accredited," said Johansen. "The CCNE Board of Commissioners only meets a couple of times a year, so we'll wait a little while to see if we are accredited."
A new program isn't eligible to apply for accreditation until it has been in operation for a year, she explained.
"We have applied and are in the process of meeting the accreditation standards," she said. "We are striving to create a quality program that will meet the accreditation standards and being surrounded by the resources of SMSU gives us confidence that we can do just that as we go through the development process for the nursing program."
Johansen said being a rural nurse carries with it unique challenges.
"Our program has a rural focus to it," she said. "We talk about rural nursing theory, which is applicable to students we are serving. Being a rural nurse and caring for rural patients is unique. Schools typically do not prepare students to go out and be rural nurses."
Being a rural nurse, she said, means "you live nursing all the time. You have a lack of anonymity in a smaller community. You sometimes do more with less. There is some beauty in that, but it's also something you have to be prepared for."
Classes are delivered primarily online, she said. Students do come to campus "approximately eight times during their academic experience," said Johansen.
The program takes two years for a full-time student.
"But since we created the program with the working nurse in mind, many of our students are part-time students," she said.
As a southwest Minnesota native, she appreciates the rural way of life and how the program fits into that rural way of life.
"Our program is individualized. We're small enough so that the students get to know the instructors, and they receive personal attention,"?she said.
The first graduates of the program will walk across the stage next May, a real milestone. As for Johansen, she is happy to be making a difference in rural health care.
"I was drawn to nursing because of the opportunities it allows me to be involved with many aspects of people's lives," she said.