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From Clinic to Virtual Classroom

Distance learning provides flexibility and opportunity for career advancement.

I remember sitting in my college dorm desperate to choose a major, crossing off each one that was not a possibility. The first choices I eliminated were physics, math and economics . that narrowed the list to 43! I kept coming back to nursing. What other profession combined so many disciplines: the sciences, psychology, sociology and more? What other major allowed me to help people? The possibility for travel enticed me, as did the security that I could likely find a job in any geographic location. I signed up.

Now, 31 years later, I can say the profession has not disappointed me. The diversity that initially appealed to me has provided many experiences that have given depth to my practice-and my life.

During college, my passion was psychiatric nursing. So I began my career working in a unit serving patients with psychiatric and chemical dependency issues. Three years later, I followed both personal and professional passions and obtained a job working as a civilian in a military hospital in Germany. The opportunities to travel and live in a foreign country, as well as to serve members of the military and their families, were tremendous. I had the chance to practice across all disciplines of nursing and served as head nurse of the clinic at the headquarters of the European Command.

When I returned to the United States, I worked in a medical stepdown unit before transferring to labor and delivery, which proved to be my true passion. Helping women and families during this time in their lives was an honor. The work itself also spoke to me: autonomy, fast pace and quick turnover. keyboard

I loved providing care at the patient's bedside and still believe that the most change can be affected in that relationship, particularly with patients in crisis.It is a privilege to be invited into the lives of our patients at times when they are most vulnerable. It is when we connect on a human level that we can spark the most change and impact lives.

My Journey Back to Higher Education
Throughout my career, I kept thinking about graduate school. But I couldn't decide which direction was best. Serendipity led me to nursing education. In early 2004, I was selling coffee to raise money for the victims of the Indian tsunami when a former professor offered me a position teaching in the nursing laboratory at my alma mater. I quickly agreed and began teaching that fall. I found I really enjoyed education and began to consider the higher education that I needed to have the credentials to work full time as an educator.

The demands inherent in working full time while raising young children pushed me to find alternative ways to seek a graduate degree. I could not envision spending entire days driving to an on-ground institution, looking for parking and sitting in a class. I did not know about online education. One day, I received a postcard for an online graduate program that interested me. I called for information. Two weeks later, I started my first class. It was exciting and frightening at the same time. I was not a "techy" person by any means-I did not know how to use a drop box or upload files to be graded. Even worse, I hadn't been in school for 20 years, much less been graded on anything!

While online education held many surprises I didn't anticipate, I took to this format like a fish to water. There was nothing about it I didn't love. I enjoyed interacting with people from all over the world and hearing their nursing perspectives. I also appreciated that everyone had equal responsibility on the discussion board, unlike some traditional classrooms when a few students may monopolize the discussion.

Persevering Through Challenges
As someone who relished small goals and became overwhelmed looking at the big picture, I only looked ahead to what I needed to get done that day, that week, that term.

Then I looked at the next term. I made lists by answering important questions such as:

  • What is due today?
  • What do I need to do today?
  • What is due next week?

Instead of watching "The Incredibles" one more time with my children, I sat next to them on my laptop and worked on the week 5 assignment. Slowly I crossed off courses and assignments standing in the way of signing my name with an "MSN."

Sadly, my father was diagnosed with cancer during my final term in the master's program. I was writing my thesis as he was dying. He didn't live to see me finish graduate school.

After completing my master's degree, my husband encouraged me to earn a PhD. Distance education had fit so well into my life that I looked at online doctoral programs and began to pursue a PhD in education. I constantly questioned my ability to pull this off. What was I thinking? My husband encouraged me-and he did the dishes while I posted to discussion boards.

SEE ALSO: Optimizing Online Education

About halfway through my coursework, disaster struck. My husband, soul mate and supporting voice died of sudden cardiac death. One moment his heart was beating, the next it wasn't. I was thrown into being a single parent of three children.

Of course I wanted to quit. But I couldn't. I pressed forward in his honor and am now writing my dissertation. My husband won't be there to see me graduate, but I saved the money from his last sale to buy my graduation robe and fund the party.

It is now a tremendous privilege to be an educator of nurses. One of my favorite statements is that I practice staff nursing exponentially through all of my students.

Online education has allowed me to become the provider of an education that has opened many doors for me.

Susan Huehn is an adjunct faculty member for Kaplan University School of Nursing and a PhD candidate.

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