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Lifelong Learner Tonya Robinson Fights for Nursing Career

Tonya Robinson, RN to BSN online graduate

At age 9, Tonya Robinson knew she wanted to be a nurse, and she has spent her life working — and learning — to become the best nurse she can be. She even continued on in her online RN to BSN program after two deaths in the family.

"The first day of class, my sister committed suicide," Robinson said. "It was really difficult. My brain just wasn't there, but my professor in that first class was amazing and worked with me."

Six months before that tragedy, Robinson's father died from an illness.

"I told him, 'I'm going to finish. I'm going to get it done,'" she said. "I felt like I had both of them rooting for me and I couldn't let them down."

Robinson didn't let them, or anyone else, down. She fought through and completed the UTA online RN to BSN program in December 2016.

She says the flexibility of the online format along with the support she received from the professors, her family and her farm animals helped her manage.

"When I was in school I had chickens, horses and a pig," Robinson explained. "My joke is that chickens have serotonin in their feathers, because they calm me down. And same thing with my pig; her name was Penelope — and my horses."

Robinson to Anderson

Robinson has had a long path to get where she is today — a research nurse in genitourinary medical oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

She started working toward a nursing career when she finished high school, applying to various nursing schools. She decided to get started on her pre-requisite courses and gain some practical experience while she awaited a nursing program acceptance letter.

"I went to paramedic school and respiratory school before I got into nursing school," she explained. "I was a medical assistant for 13 years. It helped make me a rock star in nursing school."

Robinson earned her Associate Degree in Nursing from San Jacinto College in December 2008. After completing her associate degree, she began working at First Street Hospital, a physician-owned hospital in Bellaire, Texas. She was there for five years before moving on to MD Anderson.

Despite her various educational experiences and many years in nursing, Robinson was a bit nervous when it came time to try for a BSN bridge program.

"I was a little anxious about going back for my bachelor's even though I had everything that I needed to do it," she said. "I just needed the actual nursing classes. That fear of rejection came out. Sending off my application to the program, it was nerve-wracking. But, I did it. And it was absolutely the best decision I could've made."

Robinson's decision to go back to school was aided by the fact that so many hospitals prefer or even require their nurses to have a BSN degree. It also helped that MD Anderson provided financial support.

"I wanted to come out of the program without having to pay for any of it," Robinson said. "I finished in two years. MD Anderson paid a certain amount per semester, so I worked around that, but they paid 100 percent of my tuition."

Tonya Robinson is a research nurse at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston

The BSN Difference

Once Robinson was accepted into the UTA online RN to BSN program, there was no stopping her. She was ready for the experience, even as a nontraditional student.

"I wasn't concerned about it being online, at least, not enough to deter me," she said. "I wanted it, and there was no holding back."

After hearing about the UTA online option from a friend who had completed the program, Robinson applied.

"I had always wanted to go to UT since I'm in Texas, and I chose UTA based on my friend's experience, how well she did, the level of support she felt like she got from professors," Robinson said. "It's the overall education itself, and I can totally attest to that, and that's what I tell people who are on the fence about getting a bachelor's.

"Some people say they don't want to do it because they don't want to be a manager. I said the same thing. But above and beyond I'm so glad I did it, because I learned an immense amount, way beyond being a manager."

One of Robinson's favorite courses in the RN to BSN program was NURS 4465: Care of Vulnerable Populations Across the Lifespan because it applies to her work at MD Anderson.

"That class will stick in my head for the rest of my life," she said. "It made me ask the patient more questions. I think it made me such a better nurse."

Robinson also enjoyed the management classes because they helped her better understand the manager's role and why managers do the things they do.

"A lot of the class talked about management styles and personalities," she said. "Those were things I didn't understand in as much detail. I thought it was strictly a personality. I didn't realize that there were differences in their styles, and how they can affect staff on the level that the class explained it.

"It was really interesting. It also gave me a foundation of, if I ever do choose to go down that path, what kind of supervisor I want to be, what does that look like, what impacts the staff and things like that."

One of Robinson's favorite activities in the program was the discussion boards where students interact with each other as well as the professors.

"The discussion boards were invaluable," she said. "I would read those and light bulbs would go off. It would give you a new and different view on part of the class."

Robinson has referred other nurses to the UTA program because of her positive experience.

"One of the things I tell people all the time is that if you ever think that you know everything, you are doing such a disservice to yourself. And you're doing a disservice to your patients, because medicine is changing every single day." 

Next Steps

Now that Robinson has completed her RN to BSN online, she's looking forward to even more education experiences – both as student and teacher.

"I'm planning to go back for my master's, probably in education because I want to teach," she said. "I want to be like the teacher I had when I lost my sister."

Robinson said that her husband, John, and two children, Madeline (20) and Carter (16), are proud of her and excited for the next stage.

"John's been pushing me to go back since I graduated with my bachelor's," she said. "He wants me to do my nurse practitioner degree because he says, 'You are that person who wants to do more, and you're that person who patients love.' I get that, but I love what I'm doing now and want to continue. I want to add this piece to the puzzle, and that's to teach."

Whichever path Robinson takes next, she'll likely take it with UTA.

"Another thing I really liked about UTA is that they're very forward-thinking," she said. "I felt like all the classes were that way too. It was, 'This is what we're doing now, but this is what's coming in the future.' They're always looking ahead.

"It's an awesome program. I cannot say enough good things about it."

Learn more about the UTA online RN to BSN program.

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