Innovation Economy

RINI: We are the best kept secret in Rhode Island

CEO of RI Nurses Institute Middle College talks about success of innovative approach, bridging high school and college, propelling students on path toward nursing career

Photo by Richard Asinof

Pamela McCue, CEO of the Rhode Island Nursing Institute Middle College, talks about the success of the innovative program that bridges high school and college in preparing students for a four-year degree in nursing.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 8/17/15
As the Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College prepares for the upcoming school, it’s innovative model of bridging college and high school in a four-year program beginning in 10th grade, to build a workforce and a career path for registered nurses, provides Rhode Island with a positive road map for the future.
When will the CEOs from Rhode Island’s leading hospital systems take a tour of the RINI campus? When will Gov. Gina Raimondo take a tour? How can a seamless articulation agreement be developed for RINI students at URI, at RIC, and at Salve Regina? Can the RINI model be applied to other career paths, such as technology and engineering careers? Will the workforce initiatives now in the planning stages under the Real Jobs program attempt to build a partnership with RINI?
The issues of race and ethnicity, diversity and disparity, continue to plague the economics of health care and education in Rhode Island and in the nation. The innovative model developed by RINI, and its focus on developing a workforce that matches the population of patients, is a positive step forward in a world often limited by both unconscious barriers and blatant prejudice and fear-mongering.
The push to create an RN-driven workforce also challenges efforts to find cost-cutting mechanisms by downgrading the professional level of care required by patients.

PROVIDENCE – It’s a busy time at the Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College in downtown Providence, on the fourth floor of the Roger Williams University building, preparing for the start of a new school year.

The walls have a fresh coat of paint, and construction work is finishing up in reconfiguring a number of the classrooms. The computer network system is being rewired to accommodate new HP Chrome ProBooks that each student will receive this year.

The four-year program at RINI, as its known, has now graduated two classes; word-of-mouth continues to spread about the program. Still, it is, as Pamela L. McCue, CEO, described it: “Rhode Island’s best-kept secret.”

The school’s mission is: “To prepare a diverse group of students to become the highly educated and professional nursing workforce of the future.”

The four-year school starts in the 10th grade and includes a 13th year; it is open to any Rhode Island high school student, and currently serves students from 19 different school districts. It offers students college-level courses at both the University of Rhode Island and CCRI.

RINI’s diverse student population in 2014 was 45 percent Latino, 36 percent Black, 16 percent White, and 3 percent Asian.

McCue, who is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Nursing as a Robert Woods Johnson Foundation Future of Nursing Scholar at the University of Rhode Island, speaks with passion about RINI and its promise.

“Our model is to break down barriers for students to get into higher education and to get a [four-year] RN degree,” she said. “We believe that the bachelor’s degree should be the entry point into practice.”

McCue continued: “I think it’s our time to really go out and let people know what’s happening in their own backyard.”

Here is the interview by ConvergenceRI with McCue, CEO of the Rhode Island Nursing Institute Middle College charter school, on the cusp of the next school year.

ConvergenceRI: What makes the RINI model so unique?
I believe that if we diversify the RN workforce, particularly here in Rhode Island, we are going to improve health outcomes for the patients we care for and contribute to a more complete culture of health in this state.

What I found in my research for my doctorate is that there have been many different models in secondary education, [focused] specifically on students from impoverished backgrounds, and how we are going to get them to graduate high school.

What RINI is doing is a little more ambitious: we’re not just looking for a high school diploma; we’re looking for a bachelor’s degree to become a health care provider.

What I learned from my research is that there are early college models, middle college models, and career technical education models.

What RINI is doing is taking the best of each of these models and putting them all together. We’re taking a very ambitious course. Our goal is the bachelor’s degree or higher.

That’s the uniqueness of the RINI Middle College.

ConvergenceRI: At an open house for prospective students earlier this summer, you talked about the possibility of shifting from the 10th grade starting point and beginning in the ninth grade. Why is that?
We would like to do that. The research data we’re collecting is indicating that students will have more of a success rate if we get these students at ninth grade, when they’re transitioning from eighth grade in middle school to ninth grade in high school.

That’s a huge transition. And then, we’re asking these same students to make another transition, to come to another school in 10th grade.

We believe that if we get the kids earlier, and if we make that transition [easier], we’re going to be able help out many more students than we are now.

ConvergenceRI: The need for a more professional nursing working force continues to grow. How does the RINI model fit into the disruptive forces within the health care delivery system?
Our model is to break down barriers for students to get into higher education and to earn an RN degree. We believe that the bachelor’s degree should be the entry point into practice.

In terms of caring for a person, it takes a team. There are many members of the team, and every member of the team is very important. The CNA is important, and has a very specific scope of practice. The RN is very important, and a very specific scope of practice, as does the physical therapist and the physician. No one is better, or higher, we all do different things, because it’s all about what the patient needs.

However, we do not believe you can replace an RN with a CNA.

In Rhode Island, and in this country, we know there will be a need for Registered Nurses.

We know that the passing of the Affordable Care Act is the biggest transformation in our health care history, besides the enactment of Medicare [and Medicaid].

The Affordable Care Act is creating more opportunities and jobs for RNs.

Our kids, we want them to [attain] the RN level, because we know that’s where the need is. So, when they start here in 10th grade, or hopefully, in the ninth grade, they are going to see this great career trajectory.

If they want to become an RN, we’re going to get them there.

ConvergenceRI: What is the pay scale for an RN these days?
For an RN, with a bachelor’s degree, the average going rate is about 35 dollars an hour.

A brand new graduate with a bachelor’s degree can start anywhere between $45,000 and $50,000 a year.

There is a also a growing need for a lot more nurse practitioners, which requires a master’s degree. We know that those nurses with a graduate degree are making anywhere from $75,000 to $120,000 a year.

ConvergenceRI. So, when Gov. Gina Raimondo talks about wanting to create good, high-paying jobs for the middle class in Rhode Island, that’s RINI’s bread and butter, your sweet spot, isn’t it?
When the state talks about economic development and workforce development and where the jobs are, RINI Middle College is, I believe, the solution.

ConvergenceRI: What do you think it will take to get the state’s economic development team on board with what you’re accomplishing?
Well, I think that we’re probably Rhode Island’s best-kept secret.

We’ve been so focused internally on improving our model. Now, we’re starting to collect data. We were a good idea, but now we’ve had two graduating classes, and we’re going to continue to track our kids. [We want to know], are we doing what we need to do, and if not, we’re always ready to course correct. Because we reflect what’s going on out there in the world.

We don’t have a model that says, when we graduate the kids, hopefully they’ll just fit into the workforce. We’re looking at the workforce, and then we’re creating a model that meets those needs.

We’re innovative and unique. At RINI, we’re preparing students for a job that exists and is in high demand – and will continue to be in high demand.

ConvergenceRI: When we last spoke, you were planning a meeting with Sacred Heart University in Connecticut to create a seamless articulation agreement for your students to gain admission there. How did that meeting go?
That meeting went very well, and they’re very interested in what we’re doing, and very enthusiastic.

We want to create a seamless articulation agreement for our students to go to a college or university to continue their education [to earn] a bachelor of science in nursing.

Sacred Heart is very interested; they said they think we’re cutting edge here. We are now in discussion about how we are going to create that seamless connection.

ConvergenceRI: Have you had similar discussions with Rhode Island College, or the University of Rhode Island or Salve Regina University, about the potential of creating a similar kind of seamless articulation agreement?
Our students already take courses at URI. We’ve begun discussions. The head of the School of Nursing at RIC is on our board. Everyone is very interested in making sure that the registered nursing workforce is well prepared. We believe that we are a solution to that.

ConvergenceRI: How do most people find out about RINI? Is it by word of mouth?
Yes. We’re finding out that many of our students are [finding out about the school] by word of mouth. What’s interesting is that a lot of nurses are saying: I wish this had been around when I was young. We’re seeing more and more children of nurses who want to be students at RINI.

ConvergenceRI: You have a very diverse student body. How would you talk about the diversity of your students?
We’re very diverse in race and ethnicity. I think we’re similar to the population you would find in an urban school district.

I think it’s essential to our mission, which is to diversity the nursing population. And that has to do with gender, too. We need more males in the profession as well.

But, yes, that’s the essence of our mission.

ConvergenceRI: Have you had an opportunity to meet with Gov. Raimondo yet? Or give her a tour of the school?
That’s something we would like to do, and I’m looking forward to that opportunity.

ConvergenceRI: How about Stefan Pryor and his economic development team?
Not yet, but we’d like to. We’re going to request those meetings.

ConvergenceRI: How important is the data collection in your efforts to develop an evidence-based program?
It’s so important; it really provides us with the evidence about what’s working and what’s not working.

We recognize that every student is an individual; we treat them that way.

However, when we start to look at whether the program works, or doesn’t work, it’s all about the data. This is an investment. We feel accountable and responsible, and we’re going to make sure that what we are doing is going to work.

The endgame is to have a registered nurse workforce.

ConvergenceRI: What role does standardized testing play in the measurement of students’ progress?
The NECAP has been around for a full year now. Our NECAP scores in writing and reading were very competitive, and were at or above the national average.

In math scores, we improved every single year. We known that math is a struggle; we know that if you’re going to be a health care provider and a registered nurse, you need to know math.

Our students’ math scores improved every year under the NECAP.

However, we do our own standardized testing. We just don’t count on the state’s required tests.

Each one of our students takes a standardized test at the beginning of the school year, halfway through, and at the end of the year. Because the goal is not a high school diploma; the goal is going on to [earn] a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Our kids are doing very well. And, that’s the type of data [that supports our evidence-based approach]. If we look at the math skills, and all of our students are not improving, then we’ve got to do something different. It’s not the students, it’s not the family, it’s what we need to do in that classroom to turn those scores around, because we know that every kid is capable of learning, and every kid is capable of success. [Our job] is to figure out how to do it.

ConvergenceRI: When you talk, you’re very passionate about RINI and the students? Where does this passion come from?
I am a registered nurse; I am all about health. I’m talking about the health of individuals and the health of communities, and about how we are going to make Rhode Islanders healthier.

I know we need competent, health care providers. I know we need compassionate, health care providers, who understand patients.

We’re not doing everything that we can do.

One’s health is determined not just if they have access to a health care provider or if they have health insurance. It’s about the community where they live, where they were born: that’s going to determine [in large part] how long they’ll live and how healthy they’ll be.

We call them the social determinants of health. One of those things is the quality of education. I can contribute my part to turning around the educational [system], and in giving kids access to a quality education that leads to a career in nursing.

That’s what we need to do.

ConvergenceRI: Anything you’d like to add? Any questions I haven’t asked?
I believe that what we’ve learned through the RINI Middle College model has large implications for public policy. And, I believe that collecting the data, and then beginning the discussions, will let the new administration know what we’re doing. I think it’s going to be well received.

I think that it’s our time to really go out and let people know what’s happening in their own backyard.


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