"You have to tough it out": Experiences of registered nurses while obtaining the baccalaureate degree in nursing through an external degree program

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Teaching and Leadership


Nancy D. Gadbow


Nursing education, Registered Nurses, Regents College Degrees Baccalaureate Nursing Program

Subject Categories



A large number of adults learners are RN graduates from diploma and associate degree programs, who are returning to school for the baccalaureate degree in nursing. These nurses are established in their careers, and want to continue working. The Regents College Degrees (RCD) Baccalaureate Nursing Program, an external degree program meets this need.

Review of research findings based on students and graduates of the RCD Nursing Program revealed no research on the personal, holistic meaning of obtaining the nursing baccalaureate degree through the RCD Program. This study explored the meaning of the experience of obtaining the baccalaureate degree in nursing through this program.

A qualitative, case study approach using open-ended interviews was chosen to identify patterns and commonalities of subjects' experiences and perspectives. Thirty RCD graduates were interviewed. Data collection and analyses were combined in the constant comparative method. Interview transcriptions were coded, then information was clustered into major themes.

Findings showed that participants obtained the baccalaureate degree to meet career and personal goals. They chose the RCD program because it fit their lifestyles. Participants believed they were successful because they possessed a high level of self-motivation, persistence, independence, and were willing to accept the challenge of learning in this independent manner requiring self-direction. They learned independently through reading, observing, listening, practicing, and using resource people. Despite the stress and anxiety during the performance examinations, they were proud of their success.

After program completion participants saw the need to view clients in their total environment, not just meet their immediate needs. They viewed themselves more professionally. A majority of participants believed that independent self-directed learning was acceptable sometimes, but not for all learning.

Implications for the RCD program, nursing educators, and other adult educators are suggested. Suggestions are also made for further research.


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