Nursing Q&A: Jessica Rockowitz

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Jessica Rockowitz, BS, BSN

Current Position and Past Experience

Jessica is a Registered Nurse in OB/GYN. She has a special passion for OB nursing and is currently in the process of launching her own local childbirth education business called Rockabirth.

Education, Honors and Achievements

Jessica has earned a BS in Biotechnology from Endicott College and a BSN from the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently in the process of earning her Master’s in Nursing Education.

Where did you attend nursing school?

I attended nursing school at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Nursing. It is ranked #1 in the United States, which is why I ultimately chose it!

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

I first received my BS in Biotechnology from Endicott College in 2010. I attended Penn State’s second degree program and earned my BSN in 2013. I am also in the process of earning my Master’s in Nursing Education.

What are the highlights of your education career?

A huge highlight of my education is my alma mater, itself. It was a privilege to learn at an Ivy League institution alongside some world-renowned faculty. We completed clinical rotations in top ten hospitals, and I was fortunate to see many complex cases as a student. This allowed me to be more comfortable in my first nursing position upon graduation.

What are your career highlights?

When I graduated from Penn, I started working on a Level 1 Trauma Unit at a top ten teaching hospital. I gained a ton of experience there and really got my feet wet in the field. My true passion is OB, though, and I started working at a busy inner-city OB/GYN clinic this past September. I’ve been here ever since, and I love it!

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

I was initially inspired to enter nursing after my experiences in childbirth. I had my daughter on Christmas Day 2004, and it was the nurses that made a huge difference in my experience. One of my favorite nurses stayed a few hours past her shift so she could be there when my daughter was born. I was young and overwhelmed, and they were extremely compassionate and reassuring. What drives me now is my passion for helping young moms succeed in their parenting goals. Though the drive behind my love of nursing and healthcare is still the same on a fundamental level, it has evolved as I have gained more experience in the field.

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

The interview process! I completed a second degree program and participated in an in-person panel interview. It was very intimidating. I also think the application process was overwhelming, especially gathering all of the information that each individual school was looking for. Each school required different essay prompts and components of the application, which made the process more intimidating. You have to stay very organized and keep track of various deadlines.

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

For me personally, keeping up with studying was the most challenging. I had a family and worked part-time while in nursing school, so studying long hours for rigorous exams was very exhausting and time consuming. There is a lot of studying involved in nursing as well as in my first degree, biotechnology. I experienced frequent burnout.

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?

For a traditional undergraduate nursing program, I would recommend that they shadow a nurse. They are going to learn everything they need to in school, such as anatomy, nutrition, etc. – but gaining that experience and seeing firsthand what a nurse does on a daily basis is extremely valuable. For a second degree nursing program, I would highly recommend brushing up on anatomy and physiology. It is assumed that you have a firm grasp on this, and many classes are overwhelming if you don’t. Also make sure that you have some very good stress management skills in place, because you will need them!

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

I would recommend that this student make sure he or she is extremely disciplined and a very good self-starter. Online classes are fantastic for busy schedules and those who need more flexibility, but there is a huge misconception that they aren’t as rigorous as classes taught in the traditional brick and mortar setting. This simply isn’t true! Students who are considering an online program also need to make sure that they have impeccable time management skills so they don’t fall behind.

What are the pros and cons of studying nursing online?

One huge pro to studying online is flexibility. Not everyone has the luxury of a traditional, full-time education. Many people have children or need to work for financial reasons. Being able to complete coursework online will allow someone to obtain their degree on a time-frame that works for them. Though studying online does have benefits, there are also drawbacks. You won’t make the same connections with peers and professors that you have in a classroom. If you are someone who likes to stay after to ask for clarification on topics, too, it can sometimes be challenging for professors to convey this information through a computer screen.

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?

Students can complete their coursework online, but all clinicals and some labs need to be completed in person. A huge part of a nursing education is hands on clinical work, which cannot be taught online.

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

In some ways, yes. Though I think an online degree can be just as rigorous, a huge part of my nursing education was learning from my peers. Our classes involved group projects and collaboration, and I think the online setting is missing this. Though you can work together online, there are limitations to that type of collaboration.

What qualities and skills make a successful nursing student?

Good question! First and foremost, successful students have the drive to succeed. Nursing school is rigorous, and you have to really want it, especially during those overwhelming weeks when it seems like there’s a test or project due on each day. Having strong study skills is also important, as the curriculum involves a lot of tests in subjects such as anatomy & physiology and medical/surgical nursing. I also think good communication skills are important, not only for clinical rotations, but for working with your peers. Nursing is very group-work oriented in many settings, and clinicals often involve group collaboration.

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

I would say to be professional, above all, and to let them know if you feel like you need some extra help or guidance. Nursing can be a challenging major for many, so it is important that you seek help if you feel yourself falling behind.

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

This is a tough question, because everyone studies at a different pace, and every program is a little different. Let’s break down each aspect individually. As far as clinicals go, each rotation requires different hours. On average, our rotations were 16-24 hours a week in either 8 or 12 hour shifts. We had about an hour of pre-conference and an hour of post-conference in this time frame, where we reflected on what we learned and presented our patients to one another. In a traditional nursing program, the first two years are usually classwork, followed by nursing courses and clinicals. During those first years, students can have a few hours a week of labs for classes like Anatomy & Physiology and Microbiology. Usually thereafter, students have simulation lab for 3-4 hours a week, where they get to practice their hands on skills such as IV therapy, injections, etc. As far as studying and tests, students should really dedicate about two hours a day to this, on average. Tests tend to be cumulative and rigorous in nursing school.

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

Yes, thankfully Penn gave us generous grants to attend. If you are receiving your first Bachelor’s degree, you should apply for financial aid through FAFSA and find scholarships through your school as well as other resources like Fastweb.com. Nursing students should be aware of their federal loan options as well as private loan options, if necessary. Many nursing students qualify for Perkins loans, which are government loans that can be deferred after graduation and are forgivable after a certain amount of time working as a Registered Nurse. If you are a male or minority student, there are often many generous scholarships available to you.

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

Utilize the connections of your clinicals and instructors! If you had a rotation on a floor you loved, seek out the nurse manager and introduce yourself. Attend job fairs at your school and look for work as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant). Not only is this terrific money and experience, but it helps you get your foot in the door at many institutions. Many of my classmates who worked as CNAs were hired on their floor as nurses after graduation.

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

It’s true that getting your first nursing job after school can be daunting. Employers are really looking for experience as well as someone that fits the dynamic of their floor. Skills can be taught, but personality cannot – it is therefore extremely important to many employers that potential employees mesh well with the other team members. Many nurse managers will have potential candidates meet with the other nurses and get feedback from them. They really value the input of the team.

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

Before starting school, the best thing to do is to enter your nursing program with an open mind, ready to work hard. During school, make all of the connections you can and try to get a job as a CNA to help with hands on clinical skills and introduce you to the culture of a floor. Practice working as a team with the other CNAs and RNs and get a feel for what branch of nursing you like. After earning your degree, consider volunteering and continuing to work as a CNA while you are actively seeking a nursing position.

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

This is a great question. I would first and foremost attend the school that gave me the most generous financial aid package. I was set on Penn because it is the #1 program, and although I received a terrific education, student loans are stressful. I would caution someone to really shop around and see the different aid options as well as factor in the cost of living to try to find the school that works for them. I would also have worked as a CNA during nursing school to help me secure a good first job. As far as what I’d do the same, I’d continue to study very hard in school and make connections with my clinical instructors. That is how I landed my first nursing position!

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

I wish I would have had a true sense of what nurses did on a daily basis, from the start to end of a shift. I feel like all the research and reading in the world couldn’t have prepared me for what it meant to be a nurse. I would advise anyone considering this career to shadow several nurses before beginning school.

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?

Be gentle on yourself. Remember that this is a very rigorous program, and there are going to be plenty of times where you feel like you aren’t succeeding. Seek support from family and friends and remember to use your stress relief methods. Keep a list of your goals and reasons why you started this journey to become a nurse – when you’re having a rough time, refer back to it and push through!