Six months after Misty Plummer started the online RN to BSN program at the University of Texas at Arlington, her mother, Mary Kitch, became ill with a heart condition. Her parents moved in with her and her family in Pasadena, Texas so she could help care for them.
A year into her program, her mom was also diagnosed with cancer. And if that wasn’t hard enough for Plummer, her father, David Kitch, became ill and died shortly after her mother finished treatment.
“I remember sitting with my dad in the hospital,” she said. “I had my laptop sitting up on a nightstand. I remember my dad looking at me, just shaking his head and saying, ‘You always have that thing with you.’ I said, ‘Dad, I’ve got to finish.’ And he said, ‘I know. Keep going. I’m proud of you.'”
Plummer’s father did not live to see his daughter’s graduation in December 2016, but her mother did.
“Thankfully, my mom made it to graduation before passing away,” Plummer said.
Her parents’ illnesses added extra stress to already challenging situation — earning a degree while working and raising a family - but Plummer was unstoppable.
“I was dealing with that on top of school throughout the whole two-and-a-half years,” she said. “I graduated summa cum laude, so it’s doable. The online program was flexible and kept me busy enough to be distracted. It’s definitely worth it.”
Gillian Evans, Plummer's then-manager (now assistant director) at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, encouraged her to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Evans is also a graduate of the UT Arlington RN to BSN online program.
“I kept saying, ‘Oh, I can’t do this. There’s no way. I’m too old,'” Plummer said. “She was like, ‘No. No. You really can. I promise. I did it. You can do it.’ She just broke it down and showed me how I could handle it. Because I am a one-income family with five people in the house, I was like, ‘There’s no way. I can’t afford this.’ But, she showed me, and I managed to go ahead and do it. It was time.”
Back to School After 20 Years
Plummer earned an Associate Degree in Nursing from San Jacinto College in 1996. Part of her motivation to return to school came from the National Academy of Medicine’s call to increase the percentage of nurses with BSN degrees to 80 percent by 2020.
“Thankfully, Texas Children’s promotes that, and they do help you,” she said. “It’s not like they say, ‘Go get it. You’re on your own.’ They have reimbursement and things like that, so it has really helped. I love my job; I’ve been here 16 years in the same department. I really have no intentions of going anywhere, but if that ever happened or, God forbid, I need to, you really can’t do anything without the bachelor’s degree.”
Additionally, the RN to BSN online program proved eye-opening for Plummer.
“Now, with all of the bedside experience I have, it just totally gave me a different perspective on nursing,” she said. “I probably would not have appreciated it had I gone straight out of my associate degree 20 years ago. I wish I had done it sooner, to be honest. It’s really changed my perspective.”
The degree has also given Plummer more confidence to add some versatility to her skill set.
“I’m now chair of the Quality Practice Council,” she said. “The evidenced-based kind of research and data definitely helped with that because you have to have the data to make changes. I joined the Association for Radiologic & Imaging Nursing. I’ve been on a task force for them to help do a couple of webinars for training on pediatric radiology nursing. I mean, it’s definitely opened avenues. I never would have considered putting myself out there to get on a task force, do research or make a webinar... I just never would have done that. It’s expanded my horizons.”
Online Provides Time
With her hectic schedule, attending school in person was not possible for Plummer. She also wanted to finish so she could enjoy her son’s senior year of high school. Once he graduates, Plummer is considering earning a master’s degree, too.
“Five days a week, Monday through Friday — I didn't see any option otherwise,” she said. “And it was great. I could work on it after I got home from work, and it didn’t matter if I was up until one o’clock in the morning doing what I needed to get done because it was my own pace and schedule. It was absolutely wonderful. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.”
Plummer said time management is crucial to success in the RN to BSN online degree program.
“It does require quite a bit of time, but it’s flexible — that’s the good part about it,” she said. “Obviously, I’m a testimony that it is doable. It’s worth it. I can’t say enough how it’s changed my perspective. It’s really not as difficult as everybody makes it sound. It’s time-consuming and you have to be organized, but I think as nurses we tend to be pretty multi-task oriented. Overall, that helped me get through the process. It’s just a good program.”
Plummer relied heavily on her family and co-workers to help her stay focused on school.
“My husband totally picked up mom and dad duties,” she said. “I completely had the support system. Without them, I would have never been able to do it. My work family was great, too. They were flexible on my hours. At one point, I switched over to 10-hour shifts so I could have at least one whole day to commit when I took Elementary Statistical Analysis [MATH 1308]. I was terrified of statistics. I was just like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I don’t have enough time.’ And they offered, ‘Hey, why don’t you switch to 10 hours for a little while so you have one whole day to commit, no interruptions.’ It really helped.”
On the other side of the coin, the course Plummer enjoyed most was Nursing Research [NURS 4325].
“I loved it,” she said. “Evidence-based, detailed data... it really made me understand why we do what we do here and how you can change a process by the data. Most people are like, ‘Research? Really?’ It just tied everything together.”
Plummer said she was excited to attend her graduation ceremony in Arlington, Texas and meet several of her fellow RN to BSN online graduates.
“You’re talking to people you never knew,” she said. “I realized two behind me were from California, one was from Washington, and there was one in front of me who was from New York. It was just fascinating to hear where everybody came from.
“I don’t know, I guess I had this tunnel vision that everybody [at graduation] was from Texas. I ran into a few online that were from California, but I never would have expected them to fly to Texas to graduate. But they did. They earned it, they deserved it … it was awesome.”
Now, if Plummer ever wants to move into a different role in her career, she has that option and a degree she battled through adversity to earn.
“I’m not looking into it at the moment, but I could be a manager or an educator,” she added. “It was limiting only having an associate degree. The bachelor’s has definitely opened that up. If I ever wanted to, I could possibly do it. I recommend the program wholeheartedly and have recommended it. I have the sticker on the back of my car. I’m a pretty proud UTA alum.”
Learn more about the UT Arlington online RN to BSN program.
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