Margaret Anderson's first experience with online education was less than stellar. Her second one was another matter entirely.
"I did an online class at a community college and ditched the class because it was a nightmare," Anderson said. "I was very scared to do the online course again because I thought it was going to be similar."
The University of Southern Indiana's online RN to BSN program quickly put the returning student's fears to rest. She graduated from the program in 2016, 10 years after her previous college graduation.
One of the reasons Anderson decided to enroll at USI instead of another school in the region was the positive experience she had the first time she contacted the school's nursing program.
"When I called, I talked to [USI Chair of RN Completion Program] Dr. Jeri Burger," Anderson said. "Dr. Burger was wonderful. She wrote my classes down and instructed me on what classes were needed and in what time frame I needed those classes completed. It was basically mapped out for me. All I had to do was sign up. I don't think it could have been any easier."
Anderson said that the personal attention continued throughout her time in the program.
"Dr. Burger was really good about following up with me and keeping in touch with me," she said. "If I had a question, she was right there to answer it. She was very personable to me. She was very kind in reaching out and helping if I had an issue.
"I took a class USI had never offered before, and Dr. Burger was one of the teachers. I called up and said, 'I don't really understand this -- it's not really clear.' She said, 'Oh, let me explain it to you.' She was very helpful and kind. It was perfect."
Never Too Late
Anderson, who is a critical care RN in Evansville, Indiana, decided to return to college to make sure she would be in the mix for potential career advancement.
"I did it to open up the door for more job opportunities, to be able to compete with the younger generation, because I was already an older student who went back," she said. "With all of these new nurses, I need to have a competitive edge. You then have your education and experience to go against their education. If you're competing for the same job, it opens up more job opportunities for you."
That strategy paid off almost immediately when Anderson transferred to a resource team from a single intensive care unit at the end of 2016.
"I'm now getting to work at each of the different ICUs," she said. "It opens up doors for more experience and learning opportunities. You learn and see new things every day. It's the best of both worlds."
Given Anderson's full-time job, she knew an online program was the only feasible way for her to earn her bachelor's degree.
"It was absolutely wonderful because of the flexibility," she said. "Being able to schedule between my job and classes and assignments was huge. The teachers were great. Meeting the teachers' expectations will lead you to success."
Anderson said her family and friends were caught a little off-guard by the news of her return to higher education.
"My daughter [Megan] laughed," she said. "When I went to school for my associate nursing degree, my kids were teenagers. That changed their whole life and my whole life at the time. I was in nursing school and they were in high school. My going back to school really emphasized to my children how important education is for your future. Both of my children went to college. I feel as if I inspired them to reach for that degree."
Despite being surprised, Anderson's family was very supportive once she started the online RN to BSN program.
"When I went back to get my bachelor's degree after my daughter received her degree, she said, 'Really? You didn't have enough of that the first time?'" Anderson said. "It was funny but she was always there every step of the way as my sidekick when I needed something done around the house. My dad [Bill Augustus] was very proud and supportive of me and told me this repeatedly. He was always willing to lend an ear whenever I complained about everything that needed to be done. My sister, Linda Fulkerson, was also a strong support as well helping whenever she could."
Anderson also had the support of numerous friends who helped make sure she was not overburdened and was making time for fun.
Anderson said she has always wanted to become a nurse since she is a natural caregiver.
"When I was a kid, the neighbors found a bunch of bunny rabbits and gave them to us," she explained. "These bunny rabbits were having a really rough life. I was splinting their legs because their legs were broken. I was trying to save those rabbits. I was trying to fix them. Nursing is just something I've always wanted to do."
Rather than go to college for nursing after high school, Anderson got married and had two children.
"After I got divorced, I said, 'You know what, I'm doing this for me,'" she said. "I went back and got started with one class to make sure I could do it. Then, I went to two classes. I had some tough times going through nursing school to become an RN, but I made it through -- that's what's important."
Anderson said two of her favorite courses in the RN to BSN curriculum were NURS 487: Leadership in Nursing & Healthcare Organizations and NURS 457: Population-Focused Care for RN.
"I liked Leadership [because] I got to see how the administration side works," she said.
For the Population-Focused Care for RN course, Anderson led a wellness fair at her job for partial credit.
"I truly enjoyed doing it," she said. "You see what I mean when I say USI works with you? I still had to do classes and tests and meet all requirements. I was not required to do [traditional] clinicals in this class due to the wellness fair that my employer sponsored that provided cholesterol, glucose screening and education, all the different elements of wellness in the community setting."
Anderson said she was thrilled to cap -- and gown -- her experience at graduation.
"It was the best thing in the world," she said. "I had so many of my family members and friends present to support me in this great endeavor. My granddaughter, Ava Walker, was there. She screamed and yelled and was so happy for me. Ava stated she is going to attend school and graduate, too, just like I did and wear that hat."
Anderson said she might someday go back to school for a master's degree.
"I keep trying to decide -- age versus cost," she said. "It's something I want to do, but right now my grandchild is six, and I want to spend as much time as I can with her."
Anderson is glad she finally decided to take the next step in her education at USI. What is her advice to anybody considering doing the same?
"You can do it," she said. "There is not a challenge too big for you. You can pull this off. This is a very doable program. So many people are scared they can't do it or won't succeed, but they can do it."
The irony isn't lost on Anderson: She went from being terrified of online courses to recommending an online program.
"It doesn't make sense, but it's true," she said. "I work in a big hospital where I've convinced a lot of people to go back. I was on a particular unit where I convinced six of them to go back. What I say is, 'This is the time. This is important. By waiting, you're only hurting yourself. If I can do it at my age, you should be able to do it at your age. Don't give me excuses, we all have them, you just have to decide to overcome those excuses.'"
Learn more about the USI online RN to BSN program.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.