Rachel Hager had always wanted to step into nurse leadership, so she knew that she needed to earn a bachelor's degree.
"That's a minimum to even get your foot into the door of a leadership position," she said. "Now they're requiring master's degrees for this position. Since you have to have a bachelor's to get a master's, I saw this as more of a stepping stone."
Hager completed Eastern Illinois University's online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in December 2018, which earned her a spot in a master's degree program that she will finish in the summer of 2021.
Moving from bachelor's to master's coursework was simple enough for Hager, but finding the time to start the BSN program was a challenge.
"I initially started a BSN program right after I finished my RN, and then I got pregnant," she explained. "I was only going to take a year off, but I took a little bit longer. I had two semesters done, and I needed to go back and finish. I went back in January of 2018 and got pregnant with my second one in March. I ended up delivering him five weeks before I walked to get my bachelor's degree."
Not only was Hager's family expanding, her career responsibilities were also growing.
"I actually have two roles as a nurse," she explained. "My full-time role is a hospital supervisor at an organization with two different facilities where I basically do bed placement, hospital supervision and staffing office. I'm also a part-time ER nurse at a Level-I trauma center. All three facilities are in St. Louis."
As a working parent of two young children, Hager managed to make her way through the program with determination and a lot of organization.
"I had to really push to get all my classes done," she said. "I had to make time for it. As long as you have good time management skills, anyone can do it."
Two Leaders in One
Hager's desire to move into a leadership position made her most interested in the NUR 4108: Leadership and Management in Nursing course. She notes its influence on the kind of leader she is today.
"We learned all about the different leadership styles and how you interact with team members based on the leadership style you have," she said. "It was eye-opening. I had recently accepted a leadership position. It helped me to grow into that role."
What Hager found most interesting was that the best leaders embody different leadership styles depending on the situation.
"I'm a formal leader in one position and an informal leader at my other one," she said. "As a supervisor, I think I am a transformational leader — a formal leader. I need to be able to adapt to the changes that are coming and accept that different team members have different perceptions of things and how to interact with them. Not all implementation is going to be the same. Sometimes you might have to be a little more democratic in situations and other times you have to be more autocratic.
"In my informal leadership role as an ER nurse, there's more of a democracy. Every shift is a little bit different. Every hour is a little bit different. That's why I think there has to be more of a democracy in my leadership."
NUR 4508: Public Health Nursing recently gave Hager a greater awareness of the role of nurses in the community at a time when a major health crisis is making headlines around the world.
"A good public health nurse is coming up with ways to make the public aware of those types of signs and symptoms they need to look out for," she said. "Working with the Department of Public Health, the nurse can help collaborate to assist people who might be exposed to something like the coronavirus."
Hager's current experience as a graduate student is giving her insight into her challenges in the RN to BSN program.
"It was harder than my grad school program," she said. "I had more classes and more papers. I feel like I was writing papers all the time."
She devoted anywhere from six to 10 hours each week to complete her studies, and when she saw the light at the end of the tunnel, she went into overdrive.
"I was probably an overachiever my last semester," she said. "I took four classes that whole semester [because] I was trying to start grad school in January of 2019."
Fortunately, Hager did not have to do it all alone. Nursing runs in Hager's family, so she had a lot of understanding and support from her parents.
"My parents live in central Illinois; I moved to St. Louis 12 years ago," she said. "If I was home for the weekend, my parents would watch my son at the time and give me more time just to get some homework done," she said.
Hager's longtime boyfriend, Patrick, also showed respect for the time and space she needed to get her work done.
"I could tell him that I had to get a paper done, that I needed to be working until 11 o'clock or that I just needed to sleep in 30 more minutes," Hager said. "That helped me immensely."
Having managed to complete the program despite the stressors she experienced, Hager says that anyone considering an online RN to BSN should not hesitate.
"Just do it," she said. "You can do it on your own schedule — one class at a time or as many as you feel is comfortable. Do not think twice. It was affordable. It was easy. If you're questioning it, you've just got to do it."
Learn more about the EIU online RN to BSN program.
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