Stephanie McGehee saw the writing on the wall in her first year as an RN student.
Knowing that she would need at least a bachelor's degree to advance in nursing, she enrolled in the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing online program at the University of Texas at Arlington in 2009, shortly after receiving her RN license.
The online format fit McGehee's busy schedule and she began taking classes that would change her perspective on nursing.
One course in particular, NURS 4465: Care of Vulnerable Populations Across the Lifespan, stood out for McGehee. It gave her insight on the human condition through an assignment that required a conversation with an elderly person.
"I interviewed a woman I went to church with, and I learned about the things that she had faced in her life. It was an enormously meaningful assignment."
But McGehee, a recovery nurse at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - Waxahachie, didn't stop with a BSN.
Last year she enrolled in UTA's Master of Science in Nursing in Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner online program. She expects to graduate in June of 2020.
The Human Impact
The undergrad assignment from 10 years ago still influences McGehee's approach to nursing and has prompted her on multiple occasions to not merely parse patient symptoms.
"It made me realize that even people I'm around every day, whether they're in my care as a nurse or not, have so much more to their life story than I could've guessed or imagined. There are so many outside factors that could be influencing a patient," she said. "They could be scared; they could be grieving.
"I don't know how many times I've had to step back and ask myself, 'What's happening with this person?'"
Taking this approach helps McGehee provide the best possible course of treatment while preventing her care from becoming routine.
"When you've gone through those classes and been forced to step back and think about it like that, it makes everyone more human to a nurse," she said.
Solving the Puzzle
McGehee found NURS 5463: Adult Gerontology Acute Care in the MSN program to be just as rewarding as it was challenging.
"Everything up until that class was pathophysiology, pharmacology or research," she said. "I appreciated the acute care class because I started finally seeing all the pieces of the puzzle come together."
Through scenarios involving real patients, the course gave her the opportunity to prepare for her field hours that begin this fall.
"You have to make care decisions and write a care plan for each," she said. "That's such a huge part of what I've had to learn to do in my training and in my education for my master's degree — become a holistic diagnostician."
As she wraps up her final few courses, she is seeing the value of the MSN program in preparing nurses with the skills they will need for the practitioner setting.
"We are learning not to jump to conclusions but to consider every possibility of what something could be and figure out the most efficient and effective way to narrow the options down and see what's really wrong with our patients," she said.
McGehee is happy to have the full support of her family in her higher education journey and beyond. Her sons, Dalton (28) and Brady (23), give her gifts for college on special occasions. Hitting the books with McGehee are her husband, Woody, and daughter, Alison (20).
"My husband is slowly working his way toward his own master's degree in history right now, and my daughter's in college too," she said. "We are just a whole house of college students!"
Her nursing education has made her aware of what UTA enables for nurses of all types.
"UTA has something for almost every path or every talent that a nurse could have — clinician, educator or administrator."
McGehee feels that a support role will best use her strengths once she completes the MSN program.
"I have a tendency to look at the bigger picture and figure out what's causing symptoms," she said. "I have no doubt that I will end up working in an ICU or hand in hand with some kind of specialist, whether it's a surgeon, a cardiologist, or a pulmonologist."
She values the education and experience that will help elevate not just her credentials but also the care she provides.
"I'm stepping up a level," she said. "And it will be even more rewarding than what I'm already doing. I'm moving along."
Learn more about MSN in Adult Gero Acute Care NP Online.
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