[caption id="attachment_89021" align="alignnone" width="500"] Touro University bachelor of nursing students at the Henderson, Nev., campus (image credit: John Morris)[/caption]

VALLEJO -- Touro University of California is preparing to launch a new nursing school at its Mare Island campus this April, focusing on instruction that provides an accelerated path for working nurses seeking an advanced degree and the nationally recognized "clinical nurse leader" certification.

It will be the only master of nursing program offering in-person instruction in Solano County, and will allow associate-level nurses to bypass the traditional bachelor's degree to focus directly on master's credentials, said Ann Stoltz, director of the nursing school.

That accelerated approach responds to a growing demand for highly trained nurse practitioners in the United States, giving today's job seekers an edge while addressing the expanded role those professionals are expected to play amid ongoing health care reform.

[caption id="attachment_89023" align="alignright" width="199"] Shelley Berkley[/caption]

"As health care evolves, it's expected that nurses will play a larger role," Ms. Stoltz said. "This is a little niche we have -- we've taken a very innovative approach and accelerated it."

Touro, whose Mare Island campus offers a number of graduate-level medical programs, anticipates around 35 associate-level nurses in its inaugural cohort. Those students are expected to come largely from the Solano County area, with room for an additional 10 bachelor-level students to join part-way through the program in January 2015, Ms. Stoltz said.

Associate-level enrollees can obtain their master's degree in as little as 18 months, and bachelor-level, in as little as 13 months. Approximately half of the program will be offered online, with one day per week and one Sunday per month of instruction at the Mare Island campus.

Those in-person sessions are expected to collaborate with other programs underway at Touro, allowing cross-discipline exercises in areas like simulated patient evaluation, said Shelley Berkley, who began her role as senior provost for the nonprofit private college's western division in January.

"Nurses will play an even greater role in our health care systems, as will physician assistants," said Ms. Berkley, a former U.S. representative in Nevada who now splits her time between that state and California. "By the time they graduate, they are very accustomed to collaborating with other medical disciplines."

Graduates of the program will also be trained to pursue a clinical nurse leader certification, a nationally recognized post-Master designation acknowledging a position that "evaluates patient outcomes, assesses cohort risk and has the decision-making authority to change care plans when necessary," according to the certification's overseeing body, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The organization launched the exam in 2007, and has seen recognition expand throughout the U.S. in the following years.

The Touro program (cehs.tu.edu/nursing) is likely to be the third for the North Bay on the Association's list of California colleges with a defined pathway to the clinical nurse leader exam, joining Sonoma State University and Dominican University of California. The list includes nine California schools, and just over 100 schools in the United States.

That pathway to the clinical nurse leader designation, as well as an accelerated pace and regional impact, are among the elements that make the Touro program unique, said Ms. Stoltz, a Doctor of Education who chaired the California State University's nursing school committee from 2006 to 2010.

"For nurses that are already working and living here -- they'll be staying here," Ms. Stoltz said.

At around $35,000 for 46 course units, Ms. Stolts said the program ranked favorably among private colleges and represented a significant savings for students bypassing a bachelor's degree.

The 1,400-student Mare Island campus offers graduate programs including osteopathic medicine, medial health science and pharmacy, and has received a number of medical research grants from the National Institutes of Health. The private college system is headquartered in New York City, and opened its California campus on Mare Island in 1999.

The school is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and is pursuing provisional membership for the nursing school in the American Association of Colleges of Nursing as a first step toward national accreditation.