Where did you attend nursing school?
The University of Illinois, Medical Center, Chicago for BSN and MS in Nursing (Please note: The MS in Nursing is an academic degree. It is not an MSN, which is a practice degree. I received my PhD from the University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign.
What degrees have you earned or are you in the process of earning?
I have a BSN, MS in Nursing, and PhD in Education
What are some of your career highlights?
I responded to 9/11 and have published many articles and a textbook.
What inspired you to go into the nursing field and do you feel that what drove you then is still driving you now?
I actually went into nursing to get a bachelor’s degree so I could go to medical school. Once in the program, I discovered that nursing was what I wanted to do: care for people, not disease processes. It’s the caring for the whole person that drove me to stay in nursing and get my higher degrees. The reason I teach now, at the graduate level, is that I feel we need more nurses with higher degrees who will be able to offer better care. I want to be a part of pushing nursing forward and not just through practice, but through research and mentoring and educating nurses at the graduate level.
Which nursing programs did you apply to and what were the most difficult parts of applying to their nursing program?
I only applied to the one at the University of Illinois and had no difficulty applying.
What were the most difficult parts about earning your degree(s)?
At all levels, the most difficult part was learning how to think differently. It was a paradigm shift, learning to see the whole picture and think about meaning as opposed to calling up information memorized and going through a rote process.
In talking to a future student, what things would you recommend they focus on or do before they apply or attend nursing school?
Students should make sure that the school has a philosophy and mission that they feel comfortable with. For example, if you are an Orthodox Jew, going to a Christian faith-based school would not be appropriate. Look at the school’s NCLEX pass rates. Ask if they have high-stakes testing where they give an assessment test at the end (e.g., HESI or ATI) and you have to hit a certain score or you don’t graduate no matter what your GPA is. For grad students, look at who is on the faculty. Just because a school has all doctoral-prepared faculty doesn’t mean it is the best option for you. Many MSN faculty members are experts in their areas, so look at who is on the faculty and what his or her specialty is to see if it is in line with yours. Look at numbers of grads to see completion rates, too. Be sure the program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and that the school is accredited by one of the seven regional accrediting bodies.
What would you recommend a future nursing student look for when choosing an online nursing school?
Similar to my answer to question 5, I would also add that it is important that the prospective online student be sure that an online format is right for him or her. Not everyone is cut out for this type of education. One has to be self-motivated and be able to work independently. Be sure that the length of the courses is realistic (e.g., 6-week vs. 10-week courses), because faster isn’t always better or easier.
What are the pros and cons of studying nursing online?
At the right school, like Kaplan University, online education provides a greater interaction with faculty and is more student-centered. The online faculty has to keep up with the latest technology and research. Working online means a student can “go to school” when he or she wants to. On the other side, there is no set time to be in school and that can be a problem for someone who procrastinates or has to be told what to do and when to do every detail. Being able to work with technology can be a challenge for a student going to an online program. Saying that one’s computer died or their Internet connection was lost or they don’t know how to upload files is not an excuse that carries weight at online universities. So, a certain comfort level in working with technology is needed when going to school online and prospective students should be sure they are comfortable working and researching online.
What qualities and skills make a successful online nursing student?
Most nursing students can do well online because of the nature of nursing and the type of person who is a nurse. The ability to read closely, think critically, and apply what one reads to the class posts and assignments is important. A good command of the English language and the ability to use Office programs will make for success. Self-motivation is probably the most important of all, though. With no set times to be in class and due dates often a week out, it is easy to think one will do “that” tomorrow and, suddenly, it’s the due date and the work isn’t done. Procrastination is the big thing to avoid.
Do you feel that a nursing degree earned through an online program is any different from one earned in a traditional, off-line program?
No, I do not. As long as the program and school it is housed in are accredited, the standards set by the school and program will meet the national best practices for nursing education and you will get an equivalent education in nursing at any school.
What tips would you suggest to students for how to best interact with teachers and staff while attending an online nursing school?
Netiquette is very important online. All the reader knows about you is how you express yourself in words and first impressions matter here, too. Using text abbreviations, shouting (i.e., using all capital letters), and poor grammar should be avoided. Try not to read more into the written word than what is there and be open to criticism. Remember that you have to show the instructor you know the content and copying-and-pasting replies and assignment content doesn’t do that. You have to be able to write in your own words what you learn, not use direct quotes from someone else. Most important: Ask! If you don’t know, don’t assume or wait for someone else to ask. It can be hard to get across concepts and directions with only the written word and no visual cues to help one understand. Asking for help, feedback, and more explanations are germane to your success online.
Can someone complete their nursing degree 100% online? Is there lab work or clinicals involved, and if so, how do they do those within an online program?
The answer to the first question depends on the program and level of education. For most post-licensure BSN programs and many specialties in an MSN or DNP/PhD program, one can do the degree 100% online. For all online, pre-licensure and graduate programs, some on-ground labs, clincials, practica, and EBP project work is usually required. The amount of on-ground work required depends on the level of education (i.e., pre-licensure vs. graduate levels) and the specialization (e.g., FNP vs. AGNP vs. NI) as well as the state board of nursing requirements and rules. Students do need to check into what their states require, if the program is accepted in their state, and what the program requirements are.
What is the time commitment required to earn an online nursing degree (e.g. how long does it take to graduate, how much time a day/week do they need to plan for studying, tests, labs and clinicals)?
The amount of time to earn an online nursing degree depends on what level of education and specialty the program is. Generally speaking, the online hours are equivalent to the on-ground (in classroom) hours. That’s what credit hours tell you. For example, one would expect a 5-hour course to require more time than a 3-hour course.
What financial aid options do students have when looking to attend an online nursing school?
Financial aid options are something that each student has to discuss with a financial aid expert. What is available depends on the individual student’s background and financial needs. From my experience, any options that would be available on-ground are available online.
Are you familiar with any work study or tuition reimbursement programs for potential or current online nursing students?
If so, what is the best way for a student to apply for them. There are many. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Johnson and Johnson Corporation both offer scholarships to students and some of those are minority related. There are federal scholarships also. Some nursing organizations (e.g., STTI and local state and district nurses associations) offer small scholarships, too. Some geographical areas will offer tuition reimbursement if their area is in need of nurses, such as the inner city and rural areas needing NPs. Additionally, Kaplan University lists the institution’s scholarships and grants in the course catalog.
How can online students become involved in healthcare facilities in their area while attending school (internships, volunteer work)?
Internships would have to be related to the school and the institution which would have a contract. The student could put the online school in touch with a local facility through the chair or dean. For volunteer work, there is nothing different about online students vs. on-ground students. The student should just follow the organization’s directions for volunteers.
What skills, experience and qualifications do employers focus on when hiring nurses?
The skills, experience, and qualifications employers’ desire depend on the specific employer and the role. A hospital will focus on different skills, experiences, and qualifications than a public health department or a clinic will. It also depends on what the position is. Skills, experience, and qualifications for a hospital floor nurse are different than those for a school nurse, NP, or nurse administrator and are institution-specific as well as geared toward expected education level and years of experience for a role. Basics would include a valid nursing license.
What can students do to best meet employer qualifications before, during and after earning their nursing degree?
Before earning your degree, find out what positions are available in that specialty in your area and what potential employers want in the way of skills, experience, and qualifications. For example, some nursing programs want faculty who have an MSN in nursing education and work experience in a specialty area and some only want those who had an MSN in the specialty area. Getting an MSN in nursing education in the latter area will mean you can’t find employment. During your time in school, reach out to nurses in your area who work in the specialty you want to work in. Discuss what they do in their roles. Share what you are learning in school about that specialty and ask what else they feel you need to know. After earning your degree, reach out to those nurses you networked with during school and ask about openings or potential openings in your area and specialty. Apply for any that come open even if you aren’t 100% sure you qualify. Many times a potential employee who has impressed a recruiter may be considered because of some spark he or she has or other candidates aren’t well qualified. You are also making yourself known to the recruiter who may spot a position for you in the future.
If you were personally looking to start your nursing education and career over, what would you do differently, what degree level would you want to earn and what part of the nursing career field would you want to work within?
If I were starting over, I’d have started working on my MS and PhD earlier. I waited 11 years after my BSN before going on for my MS in nursing and then 4 years before going back for my PhD. Every year, I would think, “This isn’t the right time to do this. Next year will be better.” One day I realized next year wouldn’t be any different and I had to just do it. As for which nursing specialty I would work in, what I worked in is exactly what I would want to work in again.
What, if any, additional thoughts, advice, or feedback would you like to add for students or parents?
Nursing is a wonderful profession. It is a lot of hard work, but it is worth the effort. Don’t stop with your pre-licensure degree. We need nurses with higher degrees and who always seek to learn more and question where we are and where we are going in the profession. Get your BSN as your level-of-entry, not an ADN. Be a part of the most trusted profession for 14 years running according to Gallop Polls.