Old School RN Embraces Online Education

July 18th, 2011

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By , BSN, RN

Marrice Ann King, BSN, RN, CNOR is a veteran nurse who has worked in many different healthcare venues. With more than 25 years experience, two nursing degrees under her belt and a third in the near future, she has experienced every kind of education, from the traditional brick-and-mortar school to earning her BSN, and soon her Master's, online. King spent her first 10 years in nursing working in traditional staff positions, then joined the world of traveling nurses and now is settled and working as a nurse educator in a large, urban, hospital system. During her journey from old school to online school she has learned many lessons.

Where did you begin your nursing journey?

I graduated with an Associate's Degree in Nursing in 1984. I was 25 years old and had two kids. I went to the local junior college in Toledo, Ohio.

My first job was as floor nurse on a post-cardiac/respiratory unit, back when patients stayed three weeks after having a heart attack. Then I trained to be an ICU nurse while I waited for a position in the Operating Room to open up. In the mid-to-late 80s you waited for someone to leave or die to get a job in the OR. I finally got in, in 1989. I became a Traveler in 1999, and at the time I didn't think there was any reason to go back to school for a BSN. I didn't see the need for it, I wasn't going to be compensated for it, and there was really no incentive.

So, what changed?

Several things came together that changed my mind. As a Traveler I saw a much bigger world than my Ohio hospital. I realized if I wanted to advance in that bigger world, I would have to get my BSN. I was working with nurses much younger and less experienced, but they were at the same place in their practice that I was. I just didn't have what they had. They got their critical thinking skills much sooner than I did with my ADN. I could do all the skills: put in an IV, give a bed bath, insert a catheter, but I was a Benner's Novice. I just didn't know I was. Finally, at many of the travel assignments I worked every nurse in the OR was a BSN. In St. Croix all the nurses were BSNs. Same at Duke. I had a little "aha" moment.

What led you to pursue an online degree program?

I came to the decision after a lot of other thoughts on the subject. Do I quit traveling and go back to school? That wasn't happening. Could I stay somewhere on an assignment long enough to go to school? There were no guarantees that any assignment would last long enough. Just keep taking classes and try to transfer them school to school? That would never work.

In early 2000 no one said very nice things about online nursing programs. They said you had to have classes with people; you had to have clinical with people. I needed portability. I needed to be able to go places and I wasn't willing to quit traveling. So I kept looking online. At the time there were just three or four online RN-to-BSN programs. I chose the University of Phoenix, since they were the most well known and reviewed well.

Did the new technology cause you any problems?

Being on the computer wasn't really a problem. I was better prepared than some others because I had been computer charting at several hospitals. We had been encouraged to play on the computers, even play solitaire to get a feel for the machines, be comfortable, realize we couldn’t really break them or do something that couldn't be undone. What I found most daunting was learning what "accelerated" really meant: a whole semester in five weeks. You were only allowed to take one class at a time. The first class was pretty easy. I adjusted to typing, not raising my hand. You got a feel for what the classes would be like. Then it took off. And I had already paid, I was invested, so to speak, and there was no stepping back.

What else made going to school online a challenge?

It was hard to realize I couldn't just say anything, like in a real room full of people. You don't realize how much you say in person. You can't just type, "I agree." You have to come up with something substantial to say. Another thing is never text or e-mail when you are mad, and humor and sarcasm often don't translate well when typed.

Being an adult student, you want As and you work hard for them. It's really your grade and your money. But computer things happen and that was hard to deal with. I lost a letter grade when the computer died and I lost a week of time. It took me 24 months, or three computers to get my BSN.

However, that wasn't the biggest complication. I wish there had been someone to help me make my clinical decisions. For my family practice clinical, I had to find a family and I was on a travel assignment, in Coral Gables, Florida. I didn't know anyone. I got lucky, a fellow traveler had taken an assignment there to be near her family and she lent them to me. Another time, when I was on assignment in New Hampshire I needed to access to management, not something you get much of as a Traveler. I got lucky again while at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. The hospital was trying to recruit me for a permanent position, so the managers were willing to help me by giving me their time and experience.

What advice would you give someone about pursuing an RN-to-BSN program?

My number one piece of advice for someone tackling an online nursing education has nothing to do with computers. Find out what nursing theorist the schools you consider base their teachings on and make sure you understand it. All the work you do, papers you write, will have to reflect that school's theorist. As an OR nurse, across the board, we use what I call "compressed compassion." You have 5-10 minutes to assess your patient, explain what they and their families can expect over the next few hours, and get them ready to have surgery. My school used Orem, a much more expansive theory of assessment. In my job, I ask, "When's the last time you went to the bathroom?" In Orem's theory I needed to know what kind of bathroom, what kind of septic system and where the water comes from: a well, the city, is it fluoridated? I often had trouble with this new line of thinking because what I knew best was much more concise.

So what is next for you in this online education journey?

In the Fall I will be starting my Master's in Nursing Education at Walden University Online. I chose them this time because their class times are longer, eight weeks instead of five. As a Traveler I only went to work, did my work, and then went home. Now that I have a permanent job as a nurse educator, I have outside projects and often take work home with me. I won't be able to handle that accelerated pace.

Also, I am getting a bunch of new equipment. I don't travel anymore so I don't have to do all my work on a laptop. I'm getting a new desktop, with a big screen. I am really looking forward to downloading as many textbooks as possible onto my Nook. I may like my 70s old school music, but I embrace the new technology. Let me carry all my books in my purse.

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