North Carolina AHEC Program
spring 2010 newsletter | home

Nurse Refresher Program Theory Course Now Available Online

For over twenty years, the North Carolina AHEC Program and the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing and Friday Center for Continuing Education have worked together to offer a registered nurse refresher program to enable nurses with lapsed or inactive licenses to return to active nursing practice. The program consists of a self-paced Theory Course, offered via distance education, and a Clinical Practicum that is administered through regional AHECs. Until late 2009, the Theory Course was only available as a print-based correspondence course, but now students can choose to take the Theory Course either by correspondence or as a Web-based online course.

Nurse Refresher CourseThe correspondence version of the Theory Course consists of 23 modules covering all aspects of medical-surgical nursing, from the nursing process and legal and ethical issues to the major body systems and disorders. The modules were written by faculty in the School of Nursing and nursing staff at UNC Hospitals; the modules undergo an update and a rigorous review by the North Carolina Board of Nursing every five years. Students take a self-help quiz and an open-book exam for each module; they must pass the exams for each of the modules with a score of 80 percent or higher in order to successfully complete the course. Students who complete the Theory Course receive 140 contact hours (14 CEUs).

The online version of the Theory Course is based on the correspondence version, but is enriched by links to relevant material on the Web and through the use of interactive exercises that aid in content mastery. The self-help quizzes and final exams are administered in Blackboard, a learning management system that enables the students to submit their exams and receive their grades without having to mail them in and await a reply. The online Theory Course also includes a Reader, a resource manual in which much of the content from the correspondence version is provided in printed form.

We expect that the online Theory Course, which was beta tested prior to implementation, will increase access to the refresher program across North Carolina and meet the learning needs of a new group of nurses. Those online learners, when added to nurses who have completed the correspondence version of the program, have the potential to address the nursing shortage, which is expected to increase significantly over the next 10 years. In 2009, 382 nurses were enrolled in the theory and clinical portions of the program, and past experience indicates that about 70 percent of program completers return to nursing practice.

The beta testers were primarily the refresher program nursing coordinators in the nine regional AHECs, who enroll and support students throughout the program and arrange practicum placements for eligible students once they have completed the Theory course. These nursing coordinators volunteered to assume the role of a student to evaluate two or three modules in the course. Comments from the beta testers were used to fine-tune the online course before it was opened to enrollment in early December 2009.

The Registered Nurse Refresher Program is directed by the Statewide AHEC Nursing Liaison at the School of Nursing at UNC-Chapel Hill in collaboration with a faculty member who provides students in the Theory course, both correspondence and online, with feedback and direction.

A printed brochure describing the Nursing Refresher Program and the new online Theory Course has been distributed in quantity to regional AHECs; an online pdf version is also available. Information about the program may also be obtained from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing AHEC Office at (919) 966-3736.