One bite of the healthcare apple got Jennifer Coffey hooked.
"I started working for an eye doctor, and as I was doing my job, I felt like I wanted more in the medical field," she said. "My sister-in-law actually was in nursing school and talked me into going myself."
Coffey's job as a pre- and post-procedure nurse at short stay surgical center Cone Health Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville, North Carolina, pushed her to seek continued education in her field.
"Cone Health actually requires their nurses to have a BSN," she said. "When I got my job, I had five years to get my bachelor's. It was a good initiative. I wanted it anyway, but I didn't have the drive to do it yet until I came to work at Cone Health."
Coffey decided that the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing online program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington was her best option in terms of availability, affordability and manageability.
"I do not live in an area where there is a local bachelor's program," she said. "Being able to work and learn at my own pace was also very important."
Online searches often lead to dead ends and vague information, so when Coffey found UNCW, she appreciated the program's transparency in discussions about price and structure.
"I looked at multiple online programs and found UNCW to be the most affordable," she said. "There was a lot of information about UNCW available for me to look at. When I called them, I was able to get in touch with people who could answer my questions whereas some of the universities I was considering wouldn't even talk to you unless you applied."
Coffey graduated in May 2017 after spending two years on her coursework and began working as an adjunct clinical instructor for first and third semester RN students at Patrick Henry Community College. She looks forward to making a larger impact in the lives of patients and her fellow nurses.
Time Well Spent
The most inspiring class Coffey encountered in the program was NSG 406: Leadership and Management in Nursing, which teaches students about authority and role development in healthcare.
"It was one of my favorite classes," she said. "It helps you make decisions. In some ways, it helps to be more understanding of the leadership and why decisions are made the way they are made."
The rigor of traditional coursework in her online college experience gave Coffey the education she was looking for and her bachelor's degree the same cachet as its classroom counterpart.
"It's time consuming," she said. "There is a lot of paperwork and a lot of writing, but that's expected for the bachelor's program."
Coffey explained that keeping an eye on the bigger picture was just as important as completing her online assignments.
"It's important to stay organized and not to get behind," she said. "Make sure you are always aware of what's going on, check your school roster and make a list of what needs to be done."
Everything goes by quickly in an accelerated online program, and Coffey found that the best way to keep from falling behind was to always stay ahead.
"The courses are not a full semester," she said. "They are divided up into seven-week sessions rather than semesters, which makes them very doable because you can take more classes, an extra class or fewer classes to fit your schedule.
"I printed off my schedule to make sure I knew when things were due and worked on them ahead of time as much as possible."
Some find the prospect of online college courses daunting, but Coffey wants prospective students to know that they are never really alone.
"The teachers are available online, so if you have questions, there's always someone there to help you," she said. "I would strongly recommend UNCW's program."
Making it through college while maintaining a job and a family takes a strong support network, which Coffey found in her family, especially in the help of her husband, Eric.
"My parents and my husband were very proud and supportive of me going back to school," she said. "Eric cooked dinner when I needed him to, and he didn't fuss about the house being messy because he understood that I had to spend more time studying."
Within a year of her graduation, Coffey and her husband welcomed their son Declan into this world. Coffey plans to focus on her son during his early years, but she wants to return to teaching when the time is right.
"Currently I'm taking care of my son, but I enjoy working with Cone Health," she said. "I might eventually go back and get my master's in education after he's gotten a little older."
Coffey's passion for education developed in her role as a bedside nurse and has become an integral part of her nursing philosophy.
"I like teaching others," she said. "I feel that a big part of nursing is educating our patients and educating each other so that we can do better for our patients."
Coffey believes that the best healthcare is self-care, and that is a message she wants to spread to patients and colleagues alike.
"I wish that we would do a better job of teaching patients ways to take care of themselves without always being dependent on medicines," she said. "Diet and exercise is a big deal. Some nurses are good about sharing this information. I just think it needs to be more common."
It may have been her job that motivated Coffey to continue her education, but now that she has earned her BSN, she offers a tip to those on the fence.
"Go for it," she said. "Don't wait. Just get it done. The longer you wait, the less likely you are to get back into it and the harder it is to get back into it."
Learn more about the UNCW online RN to BSN program.
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