Nicole Wilson has always known these two things: her passion for education, and that someday she’d end up working in healthcare. Fortunately for Wilson, the University of North Dakota offered the degrees she was looking for. All three degrees.
“In nursing, I love that the focus is on the person and his/her experience, not just the illness,” said Wilson.
Wilson grew up on a farm in Lancaster, Minnesota, a small town in northwest Minnesota. She went on to graduate from UND with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, and started working as a nurse in an inpatient psychiatric unit. After getting married, Wilson decided to go back to UND for a Master of Science in Nursing. She graduated and became a psychiatric nurse practitioner, working in Grand Forks and at the University.
Eventually, Wilson and her husband, who also graduated from UND with the University’s first cohort of petroleum engineering students, moved to Minot, North Dakota, where they currently live with their 3-year-old daughter. Wilson splits her time raising their daughter and working part-time as a nurse practitioner; she’s also a graduate teaching assistant (GTA) at UND.
In her day-to-day practice, Wilson noticed issues she wished she could change. These issues pushed Wilson to take her education further. She enrolled in UND’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.
“Education and learning have always been a core value in my life. I was the kid that cried if I missed school,” Wilson explained. “I was encountering problems in my practice where I felt I didn’t have the necessary level of leadership, as well as business and political savviness, to address. I helped each of my patients, but when you see larger, systematic problems that need fixing, I knew I could have a larger impact.”
Wilson believes with a higher level of education comes a greater level of influence and respect, and felt she could help a greater number of people and bring about meaningful change by obtaining her DNP degree. A former professor and mentor encouraged her to look at UND’s online program, and being an alumnus, knew the program would be high in quality.
Minus the required, once a semester, five-day campus experience (in Grand Forks), the degree is entirely online.
“It’s nice to meet and get to know the people you interact with online. The on-campus experience provides access to resources available on campus. Our time here allows us to brainstorm and use each other as resources for our final project,” said Wilson.
Live, online courses
With online courses, different challenges and obstacles can occur.
Juggling work, parenting and her courses has been the most challenging part of her experience. Frequent interruptions while attending online lectures and presentations can be challenging, but can be worked around.
“I always make sure to let me husband know when I have live class, so he can take care of our daughter,” said Wilson.
One thing that surprised Wilson was how quickly her cohort got to know each other and how they developed bonds and friendships.
“The level of feedback has been really amazing from both peers and professors,” said Wilson.
The majority of courses are asynchronous, meaning lectures are not live and there are weekly assignments due by a certain time, but some courses do have synchronous lectures, where all students log in at the same time. One way students stay connected is through the learning management system, Blackboard.
“It (Blackboard) has been a great way to connect and meet other students, but we’ll also Skype. Each way has its challenges, but for the most part, it’s pretty seamless,” said Wilson.
Keys to success
Stay organized. Wilson would tell any prospective student to make sure they stay organized and on top of assignments, lectures and exams.
“I think you definitely need to keep yourself prepared. When you’re not going to a physical classroom three to five times a week it’s easy to put coursework on the back burner. You need to organize yourself in terms of deadlines and assignments,” said Wilson.
Wilson spends a lot of time reading and reviewing literature. Every class has papers, discussion board elements and group projects. She adds, professors try to ensure students aren’t isolated, but students have to reach out and take initiative if they feel disconnected.
“I’d encourage students to reach out to professors and peers, to form connections with them,” said Wilson.
Setting aside specific times for coursework has also benefited Wilson.
“I write best in the morning, so I try to get up before my daughter is awake and spend time on my written assignments. During my daughter’s naps, I’ll review lectures and readings,” said Wilson.
One of the most positive things from this experience has been Wilson’s regained sense of passion for nursing. She took a break from working after her daughter was born and felt unsure if she wanted to return to nursing.
“This degree has totally reignited me!” exclaimed Wilson. “It has opened up new doors for what I can do in the future, things I never really thought were possible.”
For instance, Wilson now hopes to open her own private practice, something for which this degree lays the groundwork.
“I think UND is a great school. I wouldn’t have come back three times, if I didn’t think that. I would encourage everyone to attend school here,” she added. “For anyone working at home or is a stay-at-home parent, this is an amazing option.”
Wilson is currently in her last year of the two-year DNP program. She plans to graduate next fall.
Office of Extended Learning communications intern