Boots Vandemark had no intention of walking.
After completing the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing online program at UNC Wilmington in August 2018, Vandemark planned on skipping the commencement ceremony and receiving the degree in the mail.
"My co-workers convinced me to go," Vandemark said. "They said, 'Your kids need to see you finish.' I said, 'I hadn't thought about that. It's an excellent point.'"
Just like that, Boots (her given name), was scooting across the graduation stage in front of several family members, including her husband, Tyler, and their sons, Sawyer (8) and Barrett (6).
"It was important to me for my children to see all of the hard work that went into it," Vandemark said. "I would say, 'Mommy is doing schoolwork. I can't play right now, guys. I have to finish this paper.' I wanted them to see the culmination of all of that hard work at graduation, too. It was pretty special. My family was all supportive and excited when I was done."
Three months after graduation, Vandemark became a perinatal educator and a member of the leadership team at Nash UNC Health Care in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. She has worked at the hospital for a decade.
"There are several opportunities for career advancement where I work," she said. "They all require a BSN. At some point, I hope to possibly pursue a master's degree. The bachelor's degree was a stepping stone. I always look forward to achieving higher goals, and that was the next one in line."
The Shoe Fits
Vandemark grew up in Reidsville, North Carolina, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in animal science from North Carolina State University in 2000. She then accepted a job working for John Deere halfway across the country, in San Antonio, Texas.
"Everybody there was super friendly," Vandemark said. "It was like a home away from home. One year after I started, John Deere went through a massive layoff and got rid of about 2,500 employees. I was one of them. I went back home and decided to pursue a nursing career."
The first step was earning an Associate Degree of Nursing from Rockingham Community College in 2004. Vandemark started an RN to BSN program at UNC in Chapel Hill three years later, but put the degree completion program on hold.
"My career and responsibilities changed," she said. "I thought about going back to school to finish it for a while. The UNCW program was a good fit for me and my lifestyle."
The online format was the primary reason Vandemark could pick up where she left off.
"It made studies manageable," she said. "At the time, I was still a staff nurse working three shifts a week. On the days I worked, I found myself back in our triage unit, which we were not using, until 11:30 p.m. finishing my schoolwork. Then, I'd turn around and do it all again the next day.
"I tried to do schoolwork while the kids were at school or after they went to bed. It was a juggle that certainly took a lot of time management. But the professors and the coursework at UNCW were very flexible, which allows you to have multiple irons in the fire at one time."
In addition to remaining in the UNC system, Vandemark chose UNCW because of the affordability of the online RN to BSN program tuition. Plus, all of the courses she took at UNC Chapel Hill transferred, so she only needed to complete the core nursing courses.
"The support that UNCW gave me as a student was excellent," she said.
NSG 484: Profession Nursing Capstone was Vandemark's favorite course in the online RN to BSN curriculum.
"It encompassed everything that you had done in the program and was helpful," she said. "It told you where you had come from and pointed you in the direction that you want to go. I saved several of my books and made lots of copies of different materials. I can go back to them in the future if I need them."
Vandemark also honed her organizational and time management skills in the program, which carried over to her current role.
"Being able to complete the program and be successful in the program requires you to delegate and figure out what your priorities are," she said. "Those were some big takeaways. The program teaches you a lot of self-reliance. It was up to me how successful I want to be. I had a 3.9 GPA in the classes I took at UNCW. I am happy with what I achieved."
Especially because Vandemark recently started a new chapter in her career, she is pleased with where she is in life.
"I want to be successful in the position I'm in," she said. "My career goal is to continue to be a resource for my department, my building and the staff I help serve. As an educator, your knowledge level is expected to be high. You're the go-to. I want to make sure I am filling the shoes appropriately and they still feel I am the go-to."
Nash UNC Health Care initially offered Vandemark the perinatal educator position in April 2018. After some adjustments were made to the duties and structure, she accepted it.
"It went from being a salaried position to an hourly position," she said. "It gives me a lot more flexibility and made things better for me. The degree allowed me to understand the more definitive roles and responsibilities that come with leadership and the bachelor's-prepared nurse. It helped me be an advocate for myself, so to speak."
Clearly, the decision to shuffle back to college to complete the bachelor's degree was a great one for Vandemark.
"I was fortunate that the facility where I work offers scholarship assistance," she said. "You have to make sure to use the resources available to you. Pursue it. Take one class at a time if you have to. It's something no one can ever take away from you. No matter where you work or your career path takes you, once you finish the degree, it's yours for the rest of your life. Be proud of that."
Learn more about the UNCW online RN to BSN program.
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