The UNC School of Nursing, in collaboration with the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers and the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education, has rolled out the Primary Care RN Certificate, an online course that will educate registered nurses to work in a primary care or ambulatory care setting. The course is self-paced, internet-based, and will reward 50 contact hours to those who complete it.

Mary Schuler, RN, MSN, EDD, CNE, oversaw all aspects of the course’s creation. She designed the curriculum and created course materials, both written and online, with assistance from Betty Nance-Floyd, PhD, RN, CNE, CNL; and Jean Davison, DNP, RN, FNP-C. NC AHEC Nurses provided invaluable curriculum input while Dawn Cole provided assistance with policy and procedural elements. Schuler also collaborated tirelessly with the Friday center in negotiating one of the course’s most appealing aspects: its affordable cost of $250.

“We did it on purpose,” Schuler said of the cost. “We know that there is a major need in the state for this.”

That need comes in the form of a new model of approaching nursing education, Schuler said, one that focuses on keeping the patient healthy long-term, as opposed to nurses predominantly focused on learning acute care.

“It’s unique because the focus of health care has changed from an illness-focused type of approach to a preventative model. Patients need to have a person who coordinates their care on an ongoing basis: educating them, monitoring them, doing assessments, following up. We want people to remain healthy.”

The course teaches nurses how to uphold that new model of care, as Schuler said many of these skills are not taught in nursing schools today. These concepts include triaging over the phone, care management on an outpatient basis, and learning concepts such as finance, and billing and coding. Schuler said these skills will allow RNs to rise to a higher level of primary care and therefore fill the need for a more robust nurse in today’s health care landscape.

But while many schools don’t offer a similar course, Schuler said she is hopeful they soon will—with UNC’s Primary Care RN Certificate leading the way.

“Looking around, there doesn’t seem to be a program quite like it,” she said. “I’d like ours to be the best, and I’d like to see it as a model for others.”

Schuler said a course like this one has been a dream of the NC AHEC and faculty at UNC for more than three years. It is a dream that has finally come to fruition, with financing for program development coming from an AHEC grant and in-kind support from the William and Ida Friday Center, to help address the lifelong health of North Carolinians.

It all begins with an affordable, accessible course that can be taken from the comfort of one’s home. From there, Schuler said, she hopes it will inspire other schools and organizations to adopt something similar, ultimately restructuring the health care system and expanding the role of the nurse as one who supports all aspects of patient care in the primary care setting.

For more information on the UNC Primary Care RN Certificate program, click here. To apply, click here. Admission is on a rolling basis.