Shanna Bierman overcame a lot more than homework to complete the online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) with a 4.0 GPA.
"The fact that I could earn my BSN as quickly as I did or as slowly as I wanted to was appealing," she said. "I have learning disabilities, so I never know how school is going to go for me. I am always hesitant.
"Knowing I could go at my own pace in the online format was nice. The idea that the classes were only seven weeks long also appealed to me. It was perfect."
Bierman is nearing her 9-year anniversary of working at Duke University Health System in Durham. She is a clinical nurse on the labor and delivery unit.
"A lot of nursing jobs require a BSN," she said. "I was already working before that requirement happened, but I was ready to continue my education. I am an adult learner anyway. Nursing was my second career.
"It was time. I had gotten comfortable enough with my nursing career that going back to school on top of working didn't feel daunting."
After hearing about the online RN to BSN program at UNCW through work, Bierman enrolled and graduated in a little more than 12 months in 2017.
"I was nervous about online because I am very much a hands-on person," she said. "But doing online courses worked well for me. I was able to do them around work and my schedule. I worked night shift a lot of the time. The flexibility is helpful."
Bierman, who is from the Chicago area, enrolled in nursing school at Northern Illinois University straight out of high school. She decided to step away when learning disabilities kept her from progressing the way she wanted.
For 20 years, she enjoyed a successful career in wellness and nutrition before the sagging economy led her back to nursing. The shift paid off, and she graduated with an associate degree from the Watts School of Nursing in 2013.
"Now, I get to combine my previous career and everything I learned with my new career," she said. "Going back to school to finish the bachelor's degree worked out well."
NSG 484: Profession Nursing Capstone was Bierman's favorite course in the online RN to BSN curriculum.
"I got a lot out of it because it brought together the two things I am currently doing at work," she said. "I ended up working on a project with a fellow student who works with me at the hospital. That was nice.
It showed me how I could use my degree and what I was learning in my work environment."
The knowledge that Bierman gained in UNCW's online RN to BSN program also helped her take her nursing practice in a new direction.
"It's information that I could use right away and still use to this day," she said. "As soon as I graduated, I started teaching clinicals at one of the community colleges. I hope to pick that back up in the spring. I took a break because of my work schedule."
Now that Bierman is hitting her stride in her second career, she is plotting a return to college to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) at UNCW.
"I didn't walk at commencement for my bachelor's degree," she said. "I knew one day I would be back, so I figured I would wait to do it when I graduate with the DNP."
In the meantime, Bierman still has a strong passion for nursing that only grew once she earned her BSN.
"I like working with patients, so I would like to be a nurse practitioner and still see patients in some capacity," she said. "I like working with nursing students in a clinical situation. I'd like to do both of those things."
When Bierman isn't working, she spends most of her free time taking care of animals.
"I help rehabilitate abused and neglected horses," she said. "I volunteer with a local organization that rescues [injured] birds of prey. I am a huge animal lover."
Perhaps it's the nature of beating the odds that appeals to Bierman — especially since she has experienced that feeling personally.
"My advisers at UNCW worked with me and helped me get in contact with people at Northern Illinois," she said of their assistance in determining if credits would transfer from the nursing courses she took all those years ago.
"It had been 20 years since I started college. How helpful everyone was sold me on UNCW," she said. "If it hadn't been for that, I probably would have gone to a different institution and not had that kind of help. I was lucky."Learn more about UNCW's online RN to BSN program.
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