Ivy Ruiz was ready for a break from school after graduating from the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing online program at UNC Wilmington in 2016. Her sister, Brenda Hollingsworth, wasn't hearing it.
"Brenda and I graduated a week apart from nursing school the first time around," she said. "She went back for her master's degree and said, 'Come on, Ivy, let's do it together.' She is a nurse and my inspiration. She's in my corner and has always been my cheerleader."
So, Ruiz enrolled in the Master of Science in Nursing Nurse Educator online program at UNCW after taking a year off. She is on track to graduate in June 2020, a little more than a year after Hollingsworth graduated with her master's degree from Drexel University.
"One of my motivating factors for coming back to UNCW for my master's degree was that I never felt disconnected in the bachelor's program," Ruiz said. "My adviser always checks in to make sure everything is good, that I'm off to a great start and don't have any concerns. That's what I liked most about it — I never felt like I was isolated with the instructors."
The online format is the only way Ruiz could have returned to college. In addition to working full time in the operating room at UNC Nash General Hospital in Rocky Mount, she has parenting responsibilities. She and her husband, William, have three children — Julian Ramey (17), Jocelyn Ramey (13) and Jazmine Ramey (2) — as well as a nephew, Alex (16), living with them.
"It was pretty manageable," she said. "The benefit of doing it online is you can fit it into your daily routine. You can do it in the evening, during the day or whatever works. My work hours are 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. I am able to clock out and then go down to our library and study for a couple of hours."
Ruiz grew up in Camden, New Jersey, where she was exposed to the nursing profession at an early age. Her family is originally from Puerto Rico.
"I had sickly brothers, and at the time my mother did not speak English," she said. "I was her translator. We lived around the corner from a hospital. So just being around the healthcare scene, I wanted to improve it. It's still an issue today with the Latin community."
After starting as a technician at UNC Nash General Hospital in 2011, Ruiz graduated with an Associate Degree in Nursing from Wilson Community College three years later. She wanted to stay in school mode and transitioned into the RN to BSN degree program a few months later.
"I thought I eventually wanted to be a school nurse so that I could be on the same schedule as my kids," she said. "In terms of how many hours students spend in school a day, you have an opportunity as a nurse to interject and provide education.
"They're so moldable in elementary and middle school. Eventually, I think I might want to do that. Mainly, the degree was to open more doors. If I want to stay home and teach online, I can do that. It gave me more opportunities."
In fact, Ruiz became a clinical instructor at Wilson Community College after graduating from the online RN to BSN program. The information she learned in the NSG 525: Foundations and Evidence-Based Practices for Nursing Education Distance Learning course in the MSN Nurse Educator program has been especially beneficial to that endeavor.
"It helped me understand how to evaluate a student," she said. "There was one project where you have to create a simulation; it was the whole piece — the pre-brief, the simulation, what needs to occur after the simulation, how to intrigue or obtain the attention of the audience, which is your students. I applied some of that to the clinical experience with the students when conducting simulations."
With just a few months remaining in the online MSN Nurse Educator program, Ruiz can see the light at the end of the tunnel. By the time she graduates, she will have been in school eight of the last nine years.
"My family is excited for me, but they are ready for me to be done," she said. "I have been going to school since I went back for my associate degree. My husband works from home and helps take care of the kids. I say, 'I just clocked out. I am going to study.' He says, 'Go for it.' I have a very supportive group."
As an added bonus to earning three college degrees, Ruiz is providing insight to her son as he prepares to tackle college full time. He will soon see her walk the graduation stage at UNCW for the second time.
"Julian is a senior in high school, but he's taking classes at the local community college and has been accepted to East Carolina University," she said. "He's also applying to UNCW. We'll see."
Even though Ruiz sacrificed a lot of time and energy, she is thrilled that her sister encouraged her to return to college. In fact, she is now the one encouraging her fellow nurses to go back to school.
"I referred two of my peers to UNCW when they first came to precept with me as community college nursing students," she said. "We ended up hiring both of them for the operating room, one just got her BSN at UNCW. The other one that came behind her has three more classes.
"My advice to them before they started was, 'Do it. Time is going to go by regardless. You might as well be working to advance your career and your educational goals.'"
Learn more about the UNCW online nursing degree programs.
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