Eli Heicher is a very busy man these days.
Eight years after completing Eastern Illinois University's online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, Heicher is the new chief nursing officer at Taylorville Memorial Hospital in Taylorville, Illinois.
"In the next month, we move into a new hospital and the Joint Commission will come for a visit of our facility, so needless to say, we've got a lot going on," he said.
Heicher explained that the initial impulse to go back to school and earn his BSN came from the growing expectation that nurses should have more education in their field.
"In the nursing world, there's starting to be a lot more emphasis on having advanced degrees and certifications, especially in management positions," he said. "One thing that [the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)] noticed from the research, and has certainly leveraged, is that having nurses in management positions with at least a BSN improves patient outcomes."
To attain Magnet status, ANCC's recognition of nursing excellence in healthcare facilities, hospitals like Taylorville Memorial need more nurses like Heicher to move forward in their education.
"If you have thoughts of transitioning, whether at the bedside or in a management role, the BSN is the next step," he said. "Some states like New York are requiring a 'BSN in 10.' So, you can graduate with an ADN in the state of New York, but within 10 years, you must have your bachelor's degree. Otherwise, your license will no longer be valid."
Heicher views teaching and nursing as ways to contribute to the larger mission of improving patient outcomes. He teaches part time at EIU as a way of giving back to a program that accelerated his career and pushed his nursing education onward.
"I went on to earn my master's degree at Indiana Wesleyan University in healthcare administration," he said. "I'm working on my DNP at the University of South Alabama currently with a projected 2022 graduation date."
Starting the Conversation
The ease of reaching his instructors was one of the most attractive aspects of the online RN to BSN program for Heicher.
"Convenience was a major factor," he said. "I was comfortable with the staff and getting a hold of them. There was also a lot of flexibility in the program."
Heicher returned to EIU to teach NUR 3703: Research in Professional Nursing, in part, because of the strong connections he made there. His passion for evidence-based practice made him a natural fit.
"After I got my master's and had spent some time in my doctoral program, I had such a great relationship with staff at EIU whom I've always kept in contact with," he said. "When they had someone who was teaching an overload, I had the opportunity to just step in and take one."
Heicher's appreciation of the full landscape of healthcare began in EIU's RN to BSN program, and he views teaching as an opportunity to pay it forward.
"As nurses, we can play a much larger role than what the general public or even what we, starting out as nurses, even contemplate," he said. "This is the point where we start having some of those conversations. It's not all about skill set. It's about critical thinking and using our knowledge."
There is also a more practical side to going through the BSN coursework. For Heicher, improving his research and writing skills was crucial for his growth as a nurse.
"Using resources or database searches in writing is a huge component of BSN coursework," he said. "I've been fortunate to have a couple peer-reviewed journal articles published. I was not necessarily the best at writing when I started, and not saying that I'm perfect at it now, but I certainly have a better appreciation of what is required and how research can impact bedside nursing and all nursing in general."
ADN to BSN and Beyond
Heicher encourages anyone who is considering a return to school for a BSN to see it more as a growth opportunity than a job requirement.
"In your ADN program, you're thinking about passing your tests and getting your license," he said. "In your BSN, you're thinking about professional development — how you can improve and continue to improve as a nurse."
Heicher's conversations as a student, nursing professional and academic pertain to the big questions aspiring nurses should consider.
"The RN to BSN program set that spark and showed me how it's all related to how I can advance in the nursing profession," he said. "It's not a job or career, it's a profession that is truly set apart, and the BSN is where you start understanding that. Beyond giving someone a shot, I can do much, much more to influence patient care."
To illustrate the impact a single nurse can have, Heicher cites the contributions of Edgar J. Curtis, CEO of the Memorial Health System, of which Taylorville Memorial is an affiliate.
"This is an individual who has 6,000-plus colleagues and his background is nursing," he said. "That showcases how substantial and influential nurses can be if they really understand and buy in. The BSN is what starts that. We're focusing on evidence-based practice, research, policy, ethics and the list goes on and on and on. We can truly start to bridge that gap between a practitioner and a professional."
Heicher's two decades as a nurse and his optimism for the future have him convinced of his career path.
"I've met amazing people and done some incredible things," he said. "I've traveled an incredible amount that, quite frankly, I don't know that I would have done [on my own]. It's pushed me to areas and opportunities that I would not have had. It's a great opportunity for anyone to find a solid profession and path forward."
Learn more about the EIU online RN to BSN program.
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