Student-first approach and equity at the heart of Elon’s inaugural ABSN cohort

Fourteen students who have become the first to complete Elon's Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) degree speak on the transformative experience in the program.

In building its Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program, Elon University created a transformative curriculum that emphasizes interprofessional education and health equity.

And on Friday, Dec. 9, the fruits of those efforts were seen as 14 students became the first Elon alumni to receive nursing degrees, just 16 months after starting the program. It’s an achievement that has relied on hard work and vision, as students, faculty and staff came together to learn from each other and carve out a new path.

Elon’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing Class of 2022 during the School of Health Sciences Commencement on Dec. 9, 2022.

“We were building the plane as we were flying it,” says Tiffany Morris, inaugural chair of Elon’s Department of Nursing, established in the fall 2021 semester. She joined Elon in March 2021 and five months later, the first cohort began classes. In those five months, the program’s faculty was fleshed out, each course of the program was designed, and even seemingly minute details such as the color of the scrubs and the program’s branding logo were decided.

This blank canvas of what Elon’s nursing program, and in particular, the ABSN program, could be, was an exciting element for Morris.

“One of the reasons I accepted the position was the dream and the desire to create a nursing program like no other. And when you don’t have a previous template, per se, you’re open to creating something different and new,” Morris adds. “I didn’t necessarily see it as a challenge but as a dream come true.”

The ABSN degree is a 16-month program designed for those who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in another field. The intensive program requires students to complete 65 credit hours of the nursing curriculum and 540 clinical hours. The flexibility and convenience of the program, paired with Elon’s stellar reputation as a premier experiential education institution, made the ABSN program desirable to many looking to make a difference in the world through the lens of health care.

Cyra Kussman, lecturer of nursing, pins Genisis Dancer ’22, during the White Coat and Pinning Ceremony for the Elon University ABSN Class of 2022 on Dec. 2, 2022, at the Numen Lumen Pavilion Sacred Space.

“Elon has an incredible reputation, so I knew that even if it was the inaugural cohort that it would be well-resourced enough that I would have a great experience,” said Genisis Dancer ’22, a member of the inaugural ABSN cohort.

And soon after beginning the orientation process, after informational sessions with Morris as well as former Elon School of Health Sciences Dean Becky Neiduski and Director of Transfer and Special Admissions James Thurnes, she knew that choosing Elon was a great choice and that her experience would be second to none.

As an ABSN student, Dancer made her presence felt, being named the first recipient of the Dean Neiduski Leadership Award. Dancer has been offered a registered nurse position with Cone Health in Greensboro in the cardiovascular ICU. And although she’s ready to get started on her career, she has mixed emotions about leaving a group of people that have been so integral to her journey.

“My favorite thing about this program was just how intimate everything was. There were only 14 of us and we spent so much one-on-one time with all the professors,” Dancer said. “I feel like I’m close to everyone [in this cohort].”

Taking a student-centered approach was intentional, Morris said, as the students were at the heart of every decision. As Elon places mentorship as a principal element in a student’s academic experience, Morris says she and all who played a part in getting the nursing program off the ground made sure to embed this in every policy.

Tiffany Morris, chair of the Department of Nursing, speaks at the School of Health Sciences Commencement on Dec. 9, 2022 at Alumni Gym.

Another strength of the ABSN program is eliminating barriers for students, such as time limits on courses or allowing students to demonstrate their abilities through the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam, Morris said.

The inaugural class has now received their diplomas and will be preparing to sit for their nursing boards. Morris said the program has been a success so far, but there will always be room for improvement.

“There are always more opportunities to look at how our curriculum is scheduled. We’re always thinking about the sequence of courses … and making sure we are aligning it with current practices, especially for adult learners,” Morris said.

Debryah Washington ’22 received her first bachelor’s degree from East Carolina University and worked in Greenville, North Carolina, as a public health representative before enrolling at Elon as part of its ABSN Class of 2022.

Seeking a school where she would feel included while advancing health equity opportunities for in-need communities is what drew Washington to Elon’s ABSN program. Following graduation, Washington has been offered an emergency services position with Novant Health.

Washington said that connections with her cohort and the nursing faculty and staff offer lasting memories of Elon. Over the last 16 months, she became aware of her own resilience in difficult or stressful situations and how much the unwavering support of those in the ABSN program helped propel her.

Debryah Washington ’22 with her diploma at the School of Health Sciences Commencement on Dec. 9, 2022 at Alumni Gym on the campus of Elon University.

“They motivated me at times when I felt like I couldn’t do it and had those self-doubt moments,” Washington said. “They’d say, ‘You got these,’ ‘I’m so proud of you,’ and that’s all I needed was that support, that drive, that motivation that my classmates and staff gave me.”

Going forward, the goal for the ABSN program is to exceed 56 students and to attract more geographically and ethnically diverse students. The main objective is the have Elon’s ABSN degree recognized as a program of distinction by the National League of Nursing, a leading organization for leaders in nursing education.

Morris said that the vision of many made the ABSN program’s success a reality. Both the diligent work behind the scenes by faculty and staff and a cohort of dedicated and passionate students have positioned the program for a promising future.

“It’s phenomenal and extraordinary that the faculty, staff and Elon administration were able to admit a group of students as quickly as we did. And not just any group of students, but those with high academic achievement and be able to retain those students and graduate them in 16 months with little to no challenges,” Morris said.

And most importantly, she said, “they all have jobs.”