Patients and patience. Christine Thilker knows plenty about both.
After putting a return to college on hold for more than a decade, she graduated from the online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Eastern Illinois University in 2017.
"When my husband, James, and I got together, he was finishing his bachelor's degree," Thilker said. "We had small kids. Between the two of us, our children were 8, 9 and 11 years old. I said to him, 'I want to go back and get my bachelor's degree, but I want the kids to be older first.'"
Six years later, Thilker began sporadically taking classes before enrolling in the online RN to BSN program at EIU in 2014. By then, all three children — Jerron (28), Courtney (26) and Ethan (25) — were out of high school.
"I was hesitant to step into an online program because I am old — and old school," she said. "I am not as computer savvy as younger people. In fact, I was scared to death. A lot of people talked me through it. I figured it out quickly. It was perfect."
The flexibility of the online format helped Thilker do schoolwork around her busy schedule, which included a full-time job at Richland Memorial Hospital in Olney, Illinois, where she has worked for nearly 17 years.
"The online format made it manageable for me," she said. "Eastern had a tutorial that worked great. The professors were also good about getting back to me if I had a question.
"I like to sit in class and learn, so I did a lot of the lectures while the professors were taping them. If I needed to go back for any reason and listen to them again, I could."
Thilker grew up in Vandalia, Illinois, and knew from a young age that she wanted to make a career of helping others in need of medical care.
"From the time I was little, I have always wanted to be a nurse," she said. "My whole high school career was geared toward nursing. I started a nursing program right out of high school and then withdrew. I took a good, long look at myself to make sure I was responsible enough and that my priorities would be different moving forward."
Once Thilker got her head and heart aligned, she went back to school and graduated with an Associate Degree in Nursing from Kaskaskia College in the year 2000.
By the time she was ready to return to college to enhance her education, she had heard about the online RN to BSN program at EIU when program director Dr. Renee Kidd-Marshall visited her hospital.
"I liked that it was close," Thilker said. "Eastern is only about an hour away from where I live, so I could go to campus if I had a question. That made it convenient.
"I'm not used to shopping online or shipping things back and forth, but they shipped the books to me. It was close enough where I could return them to campus and not worry about them getting there safely and in good shape. I also used a loaner laptop from the school all three years I was in the program."
Although Thilker enjoyed all of the courses in the online RN to BSN program, she especially liked working with the faculty members.
"I don't know that one specific course stood out more than the others, but all of my professors at Eastern were awesome," she said. "There were different little pieces you pull out here and there from the program, but I could apply most of the information that I learned at work."
Heart of a Panther
Thilker was excited to walk in the commencement ceremony in Charleston with most of her family, including her parents, Bob and Nancy Alstat, and her two grandchildren, there to cheer her on.
"They were excited for me," she said. "I had a blast. As soon as you walked off the stage, the instructors were all standing at the far end. You had seen them on the computer the whole time, but there they were in person. It was awesome."
The combination of Thilker's experience, education and perseverance recently paid big dividends in the form of a promotion to case manager at her hospital.
"I just stepped off the floor three weeks ago and stopped doing patient care, which I had done for the last 30 years," she said. "I am still in that transition phase right now. I didn't want to go get up and answer call lights and have people beeping in anymore.
"If you would have asked me years ago when I finished the bachelor's degree, I possibly would have gone on and earned a master's degree in education, if the good Lord wouldn't let me do what I was doing. I loved working on the floor but the concrete is unforgiving."
Now, Thilker is especially glad she made the commitment to finishing what she started by earning a bachelor's degree. Like her new role, it was worth the wait.
"I got good value out of the online RN to BSN program," she said. "At least two nurses I work with have graduated from Eastern since I have. I have recommended the program. You have to be flexible and be patient. It will come."
Learn more about the EIU online RN to BSN program.
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