Leah Johnson was looking at the big picture when she enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington straight out of high school. However, she wasn't convinced her future was clearly in focus.
"I found interest in caring for people and had a great love for science," Johnson said. "I wanted to give nursing a try and see how it would turn out. My love for nursing developed as I went through the program. That's how I knew it was for me."
Johnson graduated in 2017 and landed a job as a registered nurse in the intensive care unit nurse at Duke Regional Hospital in Durham. She plans to become a travel nurse and eventually return to higher education for a graduate degree.
"I have a great base in critical care that can take me anywhere," Johnson said. "After I become a travel nurse, I'm going to figure the rest out. I have a lot of co-workers who are travel nurses who always tell me how much they enjoy it, which motivated me to get into it."
The BSN program paid dividends for Johnson while she was still enrolled. The nurse aid certification she gained through one course helped get her foot in the door at Duke, which eventually led to a full-time position.
"I had an internship the summer between my junior and senior year where I was able to precept and learn with a nurse [at Duke]," she said. "That also helped me get a job in Wilmington my senior year at a local skilled nursing facility, which helped put a little extra money in my pocket. The program offered great opportunities for me."
Off the Ground
The primary reason Johnson became a Seahawk was the strong reputation of the UNCW nursing program. RN to BSN and Master of Science in Nursing Nurse Educator programs are also available in a fully online format.
"I read that UNCW was one of the top nursing programs in the country," said Johnson, who grew up in the Charlotte area. "The program has great credibility. I learned throughout the process that what UNCW provides for its nursing students was what I was looking for."
Once Johnson knew she was headed in the right career direction, she especially enjoyed the required clinical rotations. With the psych mental health rotation, she got the opportunity to experience both inpatient and outpatient settings.
"I went to a methadone clinic," she said. "I saw the epidemic in Wilmington and how opioid use is a huge deal. I was able to help patients try to bridge to methadone. I also had a really good preceptor and a really good clinical leader at an inpatient psych unit in Jacksonville.
"I enjoyed going through that process. Seeing the difference between inpatient and outpatient psych nursing was eye-opening. I could definitely apply the skills that I learned in the BSN program."
Johnson enjoyed the experience at UNCW so much that she regularly recommends the program to her colleagues with associate degrees in nursing. The National Academy of Sciences (formerly the institute of Medicine) is recommending that RNs obtain a BSN by 2020.
"I always try to tell and encourage any nurses who need their bachelor's degree to apply to UNCW," she said. "Most of the time, they do. A lot of the nurses that I work with have gone through UNCW's online program. I have told them multiple times they have a great program and the tuition is affordable — especially for nurses here in North Carolina."
Practice Makes Perfect
Johnson looks forward to developing her nursing practice and seeing what the future holds in store. She is giving thought to eventually earning a doctorate.
"I'm the first nurse in my family. Everybody was pretty encouraging. That was a nice feeling. I definitely got good value out of the BSN program."
Graduation day was extra special for Johnson, who loves working out and volunteering for Meals on Wheels, because she received an achievement award from the UNCW nursing faculty.
"That was awesome," she said. "That told me they saw the growth and ambition I had to understand the information and understand the process of becoming a nurse. That was rewarding. Graduation day was the best."
Although Johnson understands most students enrolling in bachelor's degree programs already know they want to be nurses, she believes it's important to explore the variety of options available in the profession.
"Have an open mind to all of the types of nursing out there," she said. "Your career is so vast. People come into the program with the mindset that 'I want to be this type of nurse.' I did, too. It dramatically changed. UNCW gives you great opportunities to experience what kind of nurse you could possibly be."
Learn more about UNCW's online nursing programs.
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