Graduating from the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing online program at UNC Wilmington was a team effort for Tabitha Dixon.
"It was something that I knew I wanted to pursue at some point, because healthcare is changing and you really need a four-year degree to advance in leadership or certain positions," she said. "There were five of us at work who said, 'We should do it.' We applied and got accepted."
Dixon, the clinical supervisor of the intensive care unit at Randolph Health, in Asheboro, North Carolina, had such a positive experience in her return to college that she is now on track to complete a master's program at UNC Greensboro in May 2021.
"I work under a leadership team that is very supportive in helping individuals find what avenue they were passionate about and pursue it," she said. "I would like to be in management at some point to help people grow and be productive in the nursing profession."
The online format helped Dixon maintain a busy life as a full-time nurse and a single mother of two — Ty (14) and Cheyenne (10). Her son plays baseball and football and wrestles, while her daughter plays travel softball and volleyball.
"We stay really busy," she said. "I am usually at a field or a court somewhere. When I was going through school, I would be at the field doing some of my work with my hotspot. Sometimes we would be out of town or out of state. Other times, we would do homework together and bond at the kitchen table."
Those study sessions helped Dixon illustrate to her children the importance of earning a college degree to lay the foundation for a career.
"It was important," she said. "They would say, 'I don't know why I would need this.' But it would be something I would be working on, too, like microbiology. I said, 'This is something you need. Look at me. I'm almost 30 and I am still using this.'
"It puts them in position for choosing the right pathway when they're finished with high school to go ahead and do what they need to do while they have the support. It's much more difficult going back to college with two kids and working full time."
Safe at Home
Dixon grew up in Asheboro, but she initially wasn't sure which career path she wanted to take after graduating from high school.
"I knew that I probably wanted to work in healthcare," she said. "I got a job in maternity services and enjoyed it thoroughly. It was great to see the highs and lows and taking care of people in one of their most vulnerable situations. Nursing stuck after that."
Although Dixon started out as a technician at Randolph Health nearly 12 years ago, she graduated with an Associate Degree in Nursing from Guilford Technical Community College in 2014 and worked her way up. She was eager to get back to college when she and her four co-workers enrolled at UNCW online.
"I didn't have any difficulties," she said. "UNCW was always spot on [with] helping me register and knowing what I needed to complete by certain dates. I thoroughly enjoyed going there. It was easy to manage using Blackboard, although there were some initial adjustments doing everything online."
The flexibility of the format helped Dixon seamlessly allot time for homework, reading and discussion boards around her schedule.
"On my days off, I could get to it when I needed to — especially if I knew I had to finish something by a certain date," she said. "I could also make my schedule based on when my discussions were due.
"It was so easy to log on and do what I needed to do without the added pressure of having to go somewhere for class. It was an excellent schedule."
NSG 406: Leadership and Management in Nursing was Dixon's favorite course in the online RN to BSN curriculum.
"That course really stuck out to me — especially now that I am enrolled in a master's degree program," she said. "I like learning about that aspect of nursing so that I have that option later in my career if the bedside every becomes unmanageable for me."
Game, Set, Match
Now that Dixon is working toward completing a master's degree program, she is even happier that a UNCW representative came to her hospital to promote the RN to BSN online program and her co-workers gave her the nudge she needed to return to school.
"I knew I wanted to get a bachelor's degree, but I wasn't sure when would be the right time," she said. "It was a spur-of-the-moment-type of thing. I completed the program in one year.
"Everybody was supportive. There were two who graduated ahead of us, but three of us graduated together. Most of the individuals who work in the intensive care unit went through UNCW."
Dixon, who enjoys hiking and crafting, believes the key to success in the online degree program is pacing.
"You have to be mindful of your time and chip away at it — even if you have to do it slowly," she said. "Some people can't do multiple classes. Even if you have to start slowly and take some time, stick with it. I absolutely got good value out of the program."
Plus, Dixon knows that the next time an advancement opportunity comes along, she will have a realistic shot at earning a promotion.
"I interviewed for more of a leadership position when I did not have my bachelor's degree, and that was the reason I did not get the job," she said. "I met all the rest of the requirements. They loved me and were prepared to make an offer, but because I did not have a bachelor's degree, I was not an eligible candidate for the position."
Learn more about the UNCW online RN to BSN program.
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