Health Care

WSU online programs cater to registered nurses, hygienists

In the 14 months she took classes to turn her associate degree in dental hygiene into a Bachelor of Science degree, Liz Kristek worked full time as a dental hygienist, kept up with her toddler and gave birth to her second child.

She found the time to take as many as 12 credit hours of classes at once because the Registered Dental Hygienist-to-Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene (RDH-to-BSDH) degree completion program at Wichita State University is entirely online.

“I spent a lot of Friday nights and Saturdays in class, which I never would have been able to do in classic setting,” said Kristek, 32. “There were some days when it was rough, but the flexibility of being able to pull out my laptop at anytime and do the work made it possible.”

I spent a lot of Friday nights and Saturdays in class, which I never would have been able to do in classic setting.

Liz Kristek, who completed a bachelor’s degree online

WSU offers one of the nation’s eight fully online bachelor degree completion programs in dental hygiene, said John Sandlin, an online academic adviser for WSU.

The dental hygienist bachelor degree program is the second undergraduate degree completion program available completely online by the college. The first for the College of Health Professions and WSU as a whole was the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-to-BSN) program that allows registered nurses to complete a bachelor of science in nursing. It went completely online in Fall 2014.

The College of Health Professions also offers two graduate degrees fully online: a Master of Arts in Aging Studies and a Doctor of Nursing Practice, also referred to as a MSN-to-DNP program.

The RN-to-BSN program has attracted the highest enrollment, doubling its Fall 2014 enrollment of 56 students to 114 this semester. There’s an industry-wide push, led by the Institute of Medicine, to increase the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses to 80 percent by 2020.

“In the near future, you’ll need a BSN to be able to work at larger employers including the hospitals in Wichita,” Sandlin said. “That’s why we’re seeing a spike in our enrollment. A lot of professionals are aware they need to come back and get their BSN, or students who are recent grads of associate degree programs know they need to continue their education if they want to be prepared for the future.”

In the near future, you’ll need a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) to be able to work at larger employers including the hospitals in Wichita.

John Sandlin, a WSU academic adviser

WSU offers three ways to earn a BSN: a traditional on-campus program, an accelerated 13- to 16-month program for those who have a degree in another discipline and the online program for those who already have an RN license and are working as a registered nurse.

Sandlin said the online programs are attracting students from across Kansas and other states. WSU accepts up to 25 general credit hours from regionally accredited schools so those students only need to take the 35 nursing or 32 dental hygiene credit hours of program courses.

“Another nice thing about both our online programs is that they are self-paced,” Sandlin said... “They have up to six years to complete the programs or they can finish in as few as three semesters.”

Kristek, a hygienist for John L. Manuel’s dentistry in west Wichita, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in December 2015 after 14 months of taking online courses.

While dental hygienists don’t have the same industry-wide push that nurses are facing, a bachelor’s degree can open up career and academic advancement opportunities. Some state and federal jobs require a BDH, as do community-based roles like working with a mobile clinic.

Kristek also could continue her education, earning a master’s degree, and she is now qualified to teach. Once a week she works with entry-level dental hygiene students who are getting hands-on practice with patients at WSU’s on-campus Delta Dental of Kansas Foundation Dental Hygiene Clinic.

In addition to the online format fitting her lifestyle, she said WSU’s program was affordable. Advisers helped her get several grants and scholarships, and the supporting materials for the courses were also online, so she didn’t have to pay for expensive textbooks.

“Even though you’re not in a traditional classroom setting, you don’t feel like you’re completely on your own,” Kristek said. If I e-mailed any of my instructors they e-mailed back within 24 hours. I never felt that because I wasn’t face-to-face that I wasn’t getting what I needed from them. I could e-mail, call or even go to the office if I wanted to.”