Tammy Hussey relied on intestinal fortitude to kick-start her nursing practice. Thirty-seven years later, that inner drive is alive and well.
"While most 57-year-old nurses are planning for retirement, I wanted to be an inspiration to younger nurses," Hussey said. "I wanted to be a transformational leader, giving them motivation to continue their education, connecting with the staff and showing them that anyone can overcome barriers if they truly want something."
Hussey accomplished her goals by earning a Master of Science in Nursing Nurse Educator from the University of North Carolina Wilmington online program. Hussey, who is clinical director of med-surg at FirstHealth of the Carolinas and also an adjunct instructor at Montgomery Community College, graduated in December 2018.
"I won't say it was easy working full-time and taking care of my father, Reece King, who has Alzheimer's disease," she said. "But the support of my professors and peers gave me the encouragement to continue. When I walked across the graduation stage, I not only felt a sense of accomplishment for myself, I also realized the potential to create a positive change for the future of my nursing staff."
Rather than throw in the scrubs when she was denied admission to a community college nursing program in 1981, Hussey enrolled in a Licensed Practical Nursing program at a technical college.
"Nursing has given me the opportunities to grow at many levels and have many priceless experiences, from witnessing the birth of a newborn to holding the hand of a dying patient so they won't be alone," she said. "I am thankful for the opportunity to share my passion for caring for others with every patient I touch. The LPN better prepared me for the path I took."
Hussey earned an Associate Degree of Nursing from Central Carolina Community College in 1989. She added a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Winston-Salem State University 15 years later.
"I was fascinated by the opportunities that gaining a higher level of education brought me, so I decided to go back and obtain my BSN," Hussey said. "Nursing has allowed me to have a dynamic profession. My husband, Donald, says I've been going to school since I was 6 years old. I'm a professional student."
Hussey, who has worked for FirstHealth of the Carolinas her entire career, heard about the online MSN Nurse Educator program when a UNCW representative gave a presentation at her hospital. She was excited but somewhat apprehensive about enrolling in the fully online degree program.
"Technology is not my forte," she said. "When I was in school, it was during the days of the typewriter. Some of these nurses now don't even know what a typewriter looks like. But the online program fit my schedule and was what I needed. One of my co-workers got her bachelor's degree at UNCW, so I also talked to her about the experience."
Hussey has fond memories of her online education, including not realizing when her professor and classmates could see and hear her during video chats. Her interaction with virtual patient, Tina, in the NSG 510: Advanced Health Assessment and Diagnostic Reasoning course made her more thoughtful about communication.
"I talk fast and have the Southern slang," Hussey said. "I would ask Tina these questions and she would say, 'I do not understand.' I had to ask her questions slowly."
Hussey still loves caring for people every bit as much as she did when she started her nursing practice.
"When I was growing up, my family always had somebody we were taking care of -- a grandfather or a grandmother," she said. "We were caregivers. It's in my heart. I can teach you every skill there is, but if you don't have it in your heart, you'll never be satisfied. I love caring for people, whether it's the doctors, the nurses or the patients."
With the support of friends and family and professors like Dr. Elizabeth Gazza and Dr. Tamara Link, Hussey completed the online MSN Nurse Educator program in 14 months.
"There was a week where I didn't do badly, but it wasn't my best work," Hussey said. "I had been sick, and I had stayed up all night caring for my daddy before I came in to work. Dr. Link emailed me and said, 'What's going on? I can tell something is wrong.' She picked up on that. That meant so much to me."
Hussey added to the experience of the online program by meeting some of her professors in person because she lives within driving distance of the UNCW campus.
"It was really cool to meet Dr. Gazza," she said. "I would tell her that this the last time I'm going back to school. She was always picking on me saying, 'Are you sure this is the last time?' I was sharing stories with her, and she said, 'You're just a MacGyver.' I said, 'Yeah, I can fix anything.'"
As much as Hussey loves learning, she equally enjoys passing on her knowledge to a new generation of nurses and serving as that inspiration to get an education.
"I am a director, but I am not the director who stays in the office," she said. "I'm out there with the new graduates. I like to show them things. When I do my second job teaching adjunct, I really like that teaching aspect. I like when it clicks and that lightbulb comes on."
Hussey put the exclamation point on her latest higher education accomplishment by walking in the graduation ceremony while her family, including her daughter, Rebecca Crawford (23), and son, William (22), cheered her on.
"It was great because of the accomplishment for myself and that I was an example to others," she said. "I would not change that one experience of disappointment so many years ago that transformed me into the nurse I am and the leader I aspire to be.
"When I do retire, I hope that nurses will remember me as the inspirational leader who never gave up on her dream to become a registered nurse with the desire to never stop learning."
Learn more about the UNCW online MSN Nurse Educator program.
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