Right after Sally Herring graduated from high school in Gladewater, Texas, her grandmother and longtime local nurse, Selma Southern, offered to foot the bill for college if she would follow the same career path.
"My grandmother told me, 'I will send you to Hawaii to go to nursing school if that is what you want,'" Herring said. ''I said, 'That's good for you, but that's not for me.' What did I do? I turned around and paid to go to nursing school three times. It is what she planned for me all along."
Herring discovered her true calling when she followed her grandmother's advice several years later. Now an intensive care unit staff nurse at Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview, Herring graduated with a Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner from the online program at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) in 2018.
"I decided that I need to transition into something where I wouldn't have to lift these acute care patients and, later on when I decide I don't want to work full time, I can work part time and still make decent money working a couple of days a week. That's why I went back and got my nurse practitioner."
Six years before Herring enrolled in the master's degree program, she graduated from UTA's online RN to BSN program. That positive experience made returning an easy decision.
"The familiarity with UTA helped a lot," she said. "I thought, 'I already know that program. I am not going to be starting at square one. I am not a traditional student.' I already had experience with Blackboard and the online format. I worked full time the whole time I was in the program. It worked out well."
Before following her grandmother into nursing, Herring started down a criminal justice career path. She planned to become a police officer and even pondered law school after graduating with an associate degree in criminal justice from Kilgore College in 1985 and a bachelor's degree from the University of Texas at Tyler four years later.
Instead, Herring worked in different fields for several years before doing some soul searching and deciding to become a nurse. She returned to Kilgore College more than 20 years later to start working toward that goal by earning an associate degree in nursing.
Her first full-time job in the healthcare field was in critical care at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Medical Center in Tyler. After two years, she moved to Good Shepherd to be closer to home and started looking into RN to BSN programs.
"We had a partnership between Good Shepherd and UTA at the time," Herring said. "The hospital was reimbursing $6,540 a year for tuition.
"When they had that presentation, I thought, 'Holy cow! You mean all I have to do is the work, and you are going to pay for the whole thing?' The program was only 13 months. I said, 'Heck, yeah.'"
Although Herring had racked up some experience when she returned to UTA for the MSN program, there was still plenty to learn.
"I liked the family courses that went through the body systems, diseases and illnesses," she said. "As an ICU nurse, I typically deal with acute situations and patients who have issues that would not put them in the ICU but would send them to their primary care doctor. I did not have any experience with that or in-depth knowledge that I could remember."
Herring found several courses applicable to her job. In one of them, she learned how to read CAT scans and X-rays. She feels that this essential skill helped round out her advanced nursing knowledge.
"It is probably never going to be your primary thing because that is what a radiologist does, but a lot of it applied along the way," she said. "Having patients for 12 hours at a time allowed me to say, 'Oh, let me listen for this.'
"Plus, working at the hospital and knowing so many people helped me have access to some amazing preceptors in the Longview area."
Solid Backup Plan
After Herring completed the online MSN FNP program, she had major back surgery that kept her off her feet for three months. She attended the hooding ceremony at UTA, but she could not make it for commencement.
"I have been back at work since the end of December 2018," she said. "Since then, I have interviewed multiple times and have several things on the back burner. The master's degree absolutely provided me with those opportunities."
Herring was especially busy at the end of the master's degree program, but the online format kept balancing school, work and home life manageable.
"From April to August, I worked 12-hour shifts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the hospital and did my clinicals Monday through Thursday,'' she said. ''It was seven days a week. Then, I would come home and do all of my charting for that day.
''I had a magnet calendar on my refrigerator. I would start the coffee and change the number every morning. I would change it from 99 to 98 days. The online part of that helped tremendously."
Throughout that tough stretch, Herring got help from her spouse, Kim, and children, Chris (33), Thomas (31) and Kayli (27).
"They were very supportive," Herring said. "When I was going to school and working seven days a week, everyone pitched in and did the laundry, the cooking and the cleaning. School and work was all I did. They were very helpful, and I could not have done it without them."
Just the way her grandmother planned it.
Learn more about the UTA online nursing programs.
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