Penny Thompson knew when she graduated from high school that she either wanted to become a nurse or a cosmetologist.
“Those may sound like total opposites, but the same personality is drawn into both of those professions,” she said. “You’re helping people with something they can’t do for themselves.”
Thompson gave both cosmetology and administrative assistant jobs a shot before she finally came back to nursing permanently. She earned an associate degree in nursing from Ivy Tech Community College near her home in Indiana. After earning her ADN, she moved directly into the University of Southern Indiana’s online RN to BSN program. She graduated in December 2016.
“When I went back to school for nursing and got on the hospital floor, I thought, ‘This is exactly what I was made to do, to help people in their time of need when they’re sick,’” she said. “I thought, ‘This is what I should have done in the first place.’”
Thompson landed a job as a floor nurse with a specialty in oncology at Tampa General Hospital in Florida before completing the RN to BSN program.
“At 50 years of age, I figured there was no better time than now to get the BSN, because I know they’re going to ask me to do it when I get a job,” she said. “So, I just went ahead and did it while I was in school mode.”
Thompson also credits her husband, Brad, for helping her to the education finish line. They were dating at the time, and he helped her stay focused on her education.
“Brad helped me study to the point where he should have earned the degree, because in the end, he knew just as much as I did,” she said.
Online in Indiana
When she finally got to the task of focusing on nursing and studying online, Thompson said the format perfectly suited her personality.
“I could study at my own pace,” she said. “I’m just a very OCD person. Whenever I’m in class with other people, I hear all of their moans and groans and stresses. Listening to them kind of stresses me out, too. It is like, ‘Oh, I never thought about that.’ When I’m studying at home, I’m in my own little world. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m not affected by anybody else’s stresses. It was just much easier for me.”
Thompson also had the luxury of being able to concentrate solely on school because she did not have a full-time job until she was almost through the online RN to BSN program.
“Getting into the USI traditional BSN program straight in was very competitive and very hard, so I went ahead and did the community college associate degree,” she said.
And because USI has an articulation agreement with Ivy Tech, Thompson had a clear path to the USI RN to BSN bridge program.
Thompson said the courses she enjoyed most were the ones that gave her different perspectives of the world.
“I loved Alternative Medicine — that was one of my favorite courses,” she said. “Anthropology was pretty cool, too. I’m interested in the way different cultures look at things. It helps me step outside of the box. A pill isn’t always an answer — maybe there are other alternative things that might be able to help. I like looking at the different ways cultures live and their traditions and rituals … that’s just real interesting to me.”
Although she was already a Licensed Practical Nurse, Thompson said the RN to BSN degree program truly gave her the skill set she needed to thrive.
“When I went to school for my LPN, I didn’t feel prepared,” she said. “It was just enough to get me a job. Now that I’m an RN with so much experience and knowledge, I feel like this is exactly what nurses need on the floor. LPNs are great, but they don’t have the knowledge and procedural base on the floor.”
Thompson said her clinical experience with a nurse manager in an oncology infusion center was especially beneficial with her transition from school to an RN position.
“I helped her interview, revise policies and procedures and various things in the clinic that my classes addressed,” she said. “It’s like on-the-job training.”
Thompson also noted positive changes in how nursing is taught.
“There were 10 years between when I went to LPN school and RN school,” she said. “One of the biggest differences is now they’re implementing a lot more group work, which I think is making a huge difference in the quality of nurses being hired.
“Before, we were all working in silos. It was, ‘You do your job; I’ll do my job.’ Even when I was sinking and would ask for help, the common response was, ‘I have my own stuff to worry about. Sorry. Good luck.’ Now, it’s like a whole new environment — it is very team-oriented. I think I have to credit the universities for training people to work in groups.”
Family of Learners
Before Thompson walked the graduation stage, her three daughters — Kristin Murphy, Brittany Stewart and Heather Brooks — all earned college degrees of their own.
“My baby [Murphy] was finishing her senior year when I was 40 and going to LPN school,” she said. “She saw me be so dedicated and diligent as I sat at the table and studied. She said, ‘Wow. I really admired you. You were up studying. No matter what it took, you did it.’ She said I set a good example for her before she went to college. I’ve raised three very independent girls.”
Thompson said she was proud to attend her graduation ceremony at USI.
She encouraged all of the other students to go to graduation by telling them, “Look, I graduated from high school a year early and I opted not going through graduation. I’ve regretted it my whole life. If you go to graduation, the worst thing that could happen is you’ll say, ‘Well, that was a waste of time.’ But you can never get it back. I told them, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I was very thrilled.”
Thompson believes she made the right decision when she chose treating patients over fixing hairdos.
“You have to want it badly because nursing is a stressful profession,” she said. “Especially the school — they make it stressful because they want to make sure you’re prepared for what you’re stepping into. Working on the hospital floor takes everything you’ve got. You’ve got to be able to multitask, handle pressure, think under pressure, have good skills to recall your information, and think quickly on your feet.”
Thompson added that she hopes to someday become a manager of an infusion center for oncology patients. She has also looked into a becoming a nurse breast navigator.
“That’s something new clinics and oncology clinics are adding,” she said. “A nurse navigator is someone who is not only an educator to the patient and the family but to the staff, as well, keeping them updated on what’s up and coming, what’s working the best, what’s new. It touches on all aspects of a woman’s life — normal breast health, breast health during pregnancy, and breast health with cancer and after a mastectomy. It’s a variety of different ways.”
Learn more about the USI online RN to BSN program.