Georgia resident Kim Jones found a way to return to her roots digitally.
"I grew up in Paris, Illinois," she said. "I started out at Eastern Illinois University when I graduated from high school for a completely different career path."
Jones earned her RN license in 1988. She worked as a first assistant to surgeons and as a travel nurse while enrolled in the EIU online RN to BSN program.
"There was a push for everyone to have their BSN," she said. "I had set it to the side because life was busy and I thought it was just not going to happen. As I progressed through my nursing career, I realized that I wanted to teach, and the only way I could teach was by getting my bachelor's and going on to get my master's."
Graduating from EIU's online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in May 2016 was Jones' first step toward becoming a nurse educator.
Employer preference for BSN preparation is motivating nurses like Jones to go back to school for the degree.
"If you don't have your bachelor's degree, a lot of employers now will still hire you, but under the stipulation that you complete your bachelor's within two to three years or you won't have a job," she said.
When it came time to choose the right program, Jones needed something that would not interfere with her nursing jobs.
"I needed the flexibility," she said. "With a schedule as a travel nurse, I wanted to be able to do my travel nursing assignments while I was working on my bachelor's. With Eastern's online program, I could do both."
Jones spent nine months living in Maui, a summer in Wisconsin, a winter in Arizona, and a stint in Illinois while completing her coursework.
"It was no different than sitting at home," she said. "Because of the flexibility, I could just log on when I wanted to."
Jones could have picked any number of online programs, but she ultimately decided on EIU because of the university's commitment to its students.
"I looked at several programs as I was figuring out which route I wanted to go," she said. "I got to know the personality of the instructors as I started the process, and I could tell that they were there to see you succeed. They weren't there just for the job."
Student Becomes Teacher
A course that Jones was dreading as she undertook the online RN to BSN program ended up becoming one of her favorites.
"Community Health Behavior Methods [HST 3700] was the one I least expected to like because it required a clinical component," she said. "I had already been through clinicals as a nurse, and I didn't want to do that again, but I also like to get into the investigative side of things. I went to the public health department and learned about all of the different needs people have within communities that impact public health."
After graduating from the online RN to BSN program, Jones went straight into a master's program. It wasn't long before she leveraged the master's degree to land an instructor role at EIU.
When she got that call, Jones made sure to parlay her experiences as an online student to become a better online teacher. She believes in clearly laying out instructions and expectations for her students to help them succeed as online learners.
"I find that the more detail you can give the student up front, the fewer issues they have, the more successful they are and the less they feel like they have to reach out and ask questions," she said.
Jones is also concerned with making sure that every student in her digital classroom feels heard by responding to emails within 24 hours and maintaining an active presence in the class discussion board.
"The students don't think that the instructors are reading those," she said. "Every now and then, especially if it's a really good one or it's a really poor one, I will chime in and ask questions just to see if they will respond and get them more interactive in it."
In addition to teaching at EIU, Jones was involved in writing a program to train nurses going into surgery and then taking that program through accreditation.
"The courses that I had to write were online," she said. "So, the RN to BSN program was very influential because it gave me the background in online coursework as a student to help better my instructor role."
Never Too Late
There is no question that Jones' family was behind her 100% when she made the decision to go back to school, but they did wonder why.
"They probably thought I was crazy because I'd worked so long as an Associate Degree nurse that it wasn't like I wasn't making money and I wasn't getting to go on nice vacations," she said. "But I also didn't let going back to school stop me from doing the things that I like to do like traveling and spending time with the family."
Jones had put off earning her BSN for so long because her employer had not asked her to do it and she did not expect a salary boost from it.
Now that she has a BSN and an MSN, she can see what the real incentive should have been all along.
"It's better for patient care," she said. "You have more critical thinking skills that you've developed over the course of time. Not that you don't have those as an ADN, but I think there's more fine-tuning the further you go into your education."
As a student and instructor, Jones believes that the key to making it through a BSN program is setting a goal and sticking to it.
"Be committed to the course, committed to your goal of completing it, and know that you do have to make that time commitment even if you are on your own schedule," she said. "Otherwise you will get behind, and you will feel like you can't catch up, and [you will] throw up your hands."
Just as her professors were there for her, Jones assures students that she will be there for them.
"You can do this," she said. "Let's go do it. We're right here with you."
Learn more about the EIU online RN to BSN program.
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