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NEWS | Nov. 14, 2014

METC Degree Bridge Programs Save Time and Money (and Change Lives!)

By Cmdr. Mitch Seal Medical Education and Training Campus

One of the challenges the services faced with the startup of the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC) was the requirement of associate degrees for instructors.  Compounding the issue was that civilian institutions of higher education didn’t recognize all of the credit that was recommended.  This resulted in additional course work, which would slow the time to completion of degree requirements.  This would also frustrate the instructor and require expenditure of additional funds.  So, METC set a course to address the problem.
In 2010 METC officials met with representatives of all the service leads at all Service Opportunity Colleges (SOC).  At that meeting it was determined that the level of support required to build on the existing Department of Defense (DoD) and SOC mechanisms to support more expeditious degree completion in healthcare were beyond the scope of the SOC contract.  Although METC didn’t have additional funds for new contracts, it did have contacts with expertise in healthcare education and training.  METC reached out to the San Antonio community and soon became involved with the Texas Workforce Commission and then the White House Roundtable for Veteran Credentialing and Licensing. 
Flash forward to today and METC, in conjunction with the Ft Sam Educational Services Office, the deputy director of force readiness & training directorate in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, as well as multiple state and federal task forces and accreditation and credentialing bodies, has established new METC curriculum-based, degree-completion bridge programs with 43 schools in 23 states.  These programs have been recognized with the Innovation Award from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and a DoD Spotlight from the Office of the President of the United States, among others.  And several of these programs have been adopted as models for other higher learning institutions around the country supported by agencies such as the Health Resources Services Administration Veteran to RN (registered nurse) grant program, the Texas College Credit for Heroes grant program, and the White House Roundtable for Emergency Medical Services. 
Not only are these programs of high quality as required by DoD and the professional standards of healthcare, they are saving time and money.  For example, prior to METC soldiers and sailors were receiving as little as six semester hours for their military education, training, and experience.  That was because the translation of recommended military credit to recognizable civilian credit was difficult.  Therefore much of the recommended credit did not end up in a degree plan (save for electives) because the recommended credit didn’t completely match the existing courses in the degree plan. 
The solution was to reach out directly to DoD and SOC approved schools that had similar programs of instruction.  Once it was recognized that, for example, military medical laboratory students possess the identical certification as the civilian sector, it became apparent that none of the supporting coursework needed to be repeated.  The recognition of technical equivalency made it clear that a large portion of enlisted military medical personnel only needed general education credits to complete an associate’s degree.  The solution for the school was to add or modify existing degree plans to their catalog based on accredited METC curriculum.  Locally, that translated into the entire first semester of nursing school (10-12 semester hours) or as much as 34 semester hours or credit recognition in non-nursing programs of study. 
As you might imagine many thought losing tuition that was traditionally charged to the military student would hurt their school.  But that actually wasn’t the case for most publically funded schools that are largely tax-funded.  It was realized that when a trained military member could finish their degree in half the time of a “regular” student, it reduced the school’s per-student cost, thus saving money.  This also reduces the time and cost it takes to become a METC instructor. 
That also means the military member has more money at their disposal to further their studies, which research shows improves patient outcomes and saves money.   That also means the services don’t have to pay as much unemployment to separating personnel that go to work in healthcare.  And an independent audit performed in conjunction with the College Credit for Heroes initiative in Texas showed such programs increase revenue for the state.  But that’s not all it does. 
Shane Gabriel, a trained Army combat medic and a Sgt. 1st Class  in the Texas Army National Guard, was able to enroll in the San Antonio College advanced placement and accelerated “Military to RN” bridge program.  The program was developed in conjunction with METC using its curriculum, which was also validated by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, and was supported by a Texas Workforce Commission grant.  In 13 months Gabriel became a registered nurse (RN) and is presently working in that capacity. 
Gabriel was a stay at home dad with a newborn while his wife was attending nursing school.  “Because of the online and accelerated format I was able to stay at home five days a week and complete my clinical on the other two days when my wife was at home,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel is a member of one of three classes of students who have successfully completed this particular METC partnership program.  His employer’s preceptor has reported that he and the other Military to RN graduates are getting rave reviews.  Military experience was cited as the main factor that distinguished these RNs from other new graduates.  Gabriel is now using his education benefit to complete a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program.  In another 12 months he’ll very likely be a BSN RN.  Then he’ll have to decide if he wants to pursue a commission. 
As Gabriel puts it, “The program was a Godsend.  I wouldn’t have gone back to school without it.   A year ago I was wondering if I could ever get back to school; today I’m wondering which school has the best MSN (master’s of science in nursing) program.”