Nursing Q&A: Carolyn Mallon

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Carolyn Mallon, ASN, BSN, RN

Current Position and Past Experience

Operation Room RN

Education, Honors and Achievements

Carolyn earned an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) at Concord’s Community College in Concord New Hampshire (NHTI). Recently completed an RN to BSN completion program through Southern New Hampshire University online. While in nursing school, Carolyn was her nursing school’s National Student Nurses’ Association chapter President.

Where did you attend nursing school?

I went to school at NHTI – Concord’s Community College in Concord New Hampshire. It’s an accelerated two year nursing program that allows you to sit for the NCLEX exam and get a license after two years of full time classes and clinicals.

What degrees (nursing or non-nursing) have you earned or are you in the process of earning?  

I earned an Associate’s of Science in Nursing at NHTI when I received my RN license, and I am currently enrolled in an RN to BSN completion program through Southern New Hampshire University online. I have four classes left!

What are your education highlights?

The highlight of my nursing school experience was being our National Student Nurses’ Association chapter President. It was such a great opportunity to step into a leadership role and it really challenged me. It also opened doors in ways I didn’t anticipate and helped me learn to network.

What are your career highlights?

I’ve been a nurse for just three years, and I’ve already worked in such exciting areas! I started in psychiatric nursing, and though I loved the population, I moved into an operating room position after a year. In the OR, I trained in general cases including orthopedics, urology, gynecology, and more, even using the DaVinci robot, and last fall I was able to cross train in cardiovascular surgery. That has been so exciting! I spent six month doing open heart cases all day every day! When I decided to try nursing school, I never would have dreamed I’d be doing that a few years later!

What inspired you to go into the nursing field and do you feel that what drove you then is still driving you now?

I chose nursing because caring is what I do. I have always found myself taking care of others, giving advice, trying to help. I considered teaching, but nursing seemed so empowering! I wanted to study and learn the science of how our bodies worked and how things go wrong, so I could feel qualified to help in a more useful way. As a nurse, I teach, care, and learn constantly!

What were the most difficult parts of applying to your nursing program(s)?

My two year nursing program (NHTI) is very competitive to get into, and as a student I was a long shot initially. I had only a GED when I began taking classes at the community college! To be considered at all, I had to take the prerequisite science courses and a selection of general education credits, but to be competitive I had to get straight A’s in all those classes and take some of the classes that many students don’t take until they are in the nursing program itself. This showed that not only was I a strong student, but once I was in the program I would have a lighter load and would be more likely to succeed. I also had to take the HESI as an entrance exam, and luckily I scored well on that. I was lucky enough to get into the nursing program on my first attempt, but I also waited to apply until I knew I was a strong applicant.

What are/were the most difficult parts of earning your degree(s)?

For me, clinicals was very challenging at first. I was very good at studying and taking tests, but my nerves got the better of me on the floor! It seemed that no amount of sim lab time could prepare me for my first clinical rotation and performing my first injection on a real patient! It took me a few months to gain confidence on the floor and to have my wits about me enough to think on my feet.

If you were mentoring a future nursing student, what things would you recommend they focus on and prepare for, before they apply to or attend nursing school?   

  • Any nurse will need to have a good mind for science. You can try to memorize and drill each other for signs and symptoms of conditions or side effects of drugs, but the only way to learn any of that very well is to really understand the physiology.
  • If you learn as much as you can in Biology class, then Anatomy and Physiology class will make more sense, and I promise you that the Pharmacology and Pathophysiology lectures will be memorable – instead of tedious.

What advice would you give to a future nursing student who is considering enrolling in an online or distance learning nursing program?  

  • Online classes offer a lot more flexibility, but at the cost of the accessibility of the teacher. The teacher is still there by email, forums, even phone and text in some cases, but nothing beats immediate answers by hand-raising. If you already have a grasp of the basics of the material or you are comfortable learning it somewhat independently, then online learning can be a huge time saver and very convenient.
  • I prefer the online format for writing-intensive courses that are largely self-study. Math classes, on the other hand, have been a struggle for me to manage without a live instructor, and I would not repeat that experience.

What are the pros and cons of studying nursing online?

  • There are pros and cons to online nursing classes, and it often depends on the instructor. One benefit of online classes is that they allow you to do the work around your own schedule, so it can be easier if you work or have children. The flip side of that is that you must take care to budget your time! I take one class at a time, but it’s a six-credit course in ten weeks.
  • You can end up with a surprising amount of work to be done in a short time. Online does not mean easy!

Can someone complete their nursing degree 100% online? Is there lab work or clinicals involved, and if so, how do they do that within an online program?  

  • Nursing classes can be completed online, but you must also complete a clinical component (some states have a specified minimum number of hours).
  • The clinical requirements are not different between two and four year programs, though, and most BSN programs simply begin clinicals later in the program, whereas two year programs begin clinicals almost immediately.

Do you feel that a nursing degree earned through an online program is any different from one earned in a traditional, on-campus program?

  • I feel that there is something to be said for the interaction you get with an instructor that is very helpful, especially in simulation lab where student nurses do skills training. Lectures, too, would not have felt the same without the back and forth dialogue we had in class.
  • Online classes I’ve taken relied on reading and recorded lectures. Personally, I don’t think that format would have kept my attention well enough throughout nursing school, but it might suit another student better.

What qualities and skills make a successful nursing student?  

Perseverance, curiosity, and genuine compassion.

What tips would you give a student for how to best interact with teachers and counselors while attending nursing school?  

  • There is an unfortunate reputation among clinical instructors in particular that they can be impossible to please. Don’t go in with that attitude. Let their high standards challenge you to be prepared and do your best. They are not out to get you; they only want to keep the patients safe and teach you.
  • Never say “I don’t know.” Instead say, “Let me find out,” and then look it up!

How much time during the week should a nursing student set aside for studying, tests, labs and/or clinicals?  

  • I know some students who worked full time and were successful in nursing school. I was a single parent, but did not work, and I was able to manage it, but I don’t know many who could work full time and parent well and be a full time nursing student.
  • I blocked out study time while they kids were in school, and I studied on campus to avoid the distractions of housework.
  • I spent an average of six hours a week studying notes, two half days a week in lecture, two days a week in clinicals, and another few hours a week on duties related to the Student Nurses’ Association and various other committees. And of course I had two small children. But I did it and so can you!

Did you receive any financial aid for your nursing degree(s)? What financial aid options should a nursing student consider?

I got a lot of financial aid! I spent each spring break applying to scholarships. Many hospitals offer some scholarships, and the financial aid office at your college should provide an extensive list of local scholarships and grants. I found these to be the best because there was less competition than the more publicized ones online.

How can an online or campus-based nursing student become involved in healthcare facilities in their area while attending school (internships, volunteer work)?

Volunteer for a hospital or hospice organization. I worked for Beacon Hospice, visiting end-stage dementia patients weekly while I was in nursing school. It will give you patient contact as a student (and helps for scholarship applications now and job applications later).

What skills, experience and qualifications do employers focus on when hiring nurses?

  • Hiring managers like to see healthcare-related experience. A friend of mine worked for a semester as an LNA on a cardiac floor just before we graduated, and was hired as an RN after graduation. That’s the ideal scenario.
  • Leadership roles are helpful, so highlight management experience and student leadership experiences.

What can students do to best meet employer qualifications before, during and after earning their nursing degree?

Continue your education. Employers seem to really want to see more BSN and even MSN prepared nurses these days. Getting certifications helps, too.

If you were personally looking to start your nursing education or career over, what would you do differently? What would you do the same?

  • I would still begin at NHTI with my two year nursing degree because it was far more cost-effective than the private nursing school around here.
  • I wish I could have worked at least part time as an LNA through school, though, to avoid some of the student debt and to get experience that would have helped me get hired right away. It took me a couple months to get a job, even as our school’s top graduate, because I had no experience.

What do you wish you would have known before starting nursing school or becoming a nurse?

I wish I knew earlier what I’d wanted to do! I would have gone to nursing school earlier!

What, if any, additional thoughts, advice, and/or feedback would you like to give to future nursing students or parents and counselors of future nursing students?

  • You don’t have to have a perfect academic track record to become a nurse, but you have to be able to buckle down now and you must have the science aptitude to do well in this field.
  • If you have a mind for science and a caring heart, nursing is such a rewarding field!

Sources: https://www.ncsbn.org/Educational_Programs_Entry_into_Practice.pdf