Tara Ann Davis is approaching her education the same way she has handled her nursing career – dedicatedly and methodically.
She completed her Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) program in 2007 and immediately started working full time as an LVN. However, she soon decided to go back to school for her Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). She enrolled in an online program that allowed her to keep working.
This exposure to working while earning a degree online gave Davis the comfort and confidence to keep going beyond the ADN. Ten years after starting her nursing career, she enrolled in the UTA online RN to MSN program. She will finish the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) portion of the program in December 2019.
"I'm very excited to be finishing at the end of this year," said Davis, who has been taking one course at a time.
Davis initially enrolled in the RN to MSN program with the intention of earning the master's degree in nursing education, but when UTA opened up the RN to MSN – Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) option in late 2018, she immediately knew that she'd change course.
"I was already enrolled and got the notification in September that they were opening it up," she said. "It was great because that's actually what I've always wanted to do. I was going to go with their education route because you can bridge fairly easily from education to FNP, but this has worked out great."
Dr. Davis, I Presume?
As she wraps up the BSN portion of her online program, Davis is looking forward to the next phase. She plans to start the MSN courses in tandem with longtime friend and coworker, Tonya Robinson.
"She went through UTA to get her bachelor's, so I started as well," Davis said. "I took some breaks in between. I'm going to finish up at the end of this year. Then, we're hoping to go back together, to get our master's degrees."
While Robinson is planning to stick with the education track, Davis is excited about the option to become a nurse practitioner. She's already considering the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) online program at UTA.
"I'm really keeping my fingers crossed that within the next year they open a BSN to DNP program because that's what I'd really like to do," Davis said. "But even if they don't, I could go into the DNP after finishing my master's."
She sees the value of the education she's gaining, knowing that nursing is a lifelong learning profession.
"When I first started my nursing career, it was super important to go ahead and get your bachelor's. Now everyone wants you to get a master's degree. In the nurse practitioner role, the DNPs are becoming more essential," Davis said.
Sharing Is Caring
Davis, who is a research nurse in investigational therapeutics at MD Anderson in Houston, loves the flexibility of online programs, but does sometimes miss the camaraderie of in-person classes. However, she has found a way around this challenge with the buddy system.
"My brother, Danny Davis, and sister-in-law, Donna Davis, are both nurses as well. They graduated six months after I did with an LVN. So we all went back to RN school together, which was really nice. Having a support group is really important."
Now she'll be doing the same with her MD Anderson coworker, Robinson, in the MSN courses.
"Even though we're taking different tracks, some of the core courses will be the same, so we can go through those together," Davis said.
Davis has also encouraged her Danny and Donna to go back for their BSNs online with UTA. After sharing her experience with her brother, he decided to enroll. He starts the RN to BSN online program next month.
Now that she's gone through most of the BSN courses in her RN to MSN program, Davis better understands and appreciates the value of a BSN and advanced nursing education. She sees the difference between the ADN and the BSN levels.
"One of the biggest differences is the leadership and the conflict resolution skills that you gain with the BSN," she said. "The greater knowledge of not just doing things, but why you do them and the process.
"Another difference is the research component. The BSN program has classes geared towards research. It also expects you to do your own research. It prepares you to be responsible for your own knowledge and continued learning. ADN classes prepare you to take care of the patient at hand. The BSN program builds on that patient care. It gives you the tools to do research yourself and improve future patient outcomes."
Davis has enjoyed all of her courses so far and says that the whole program has helped her develop various skills.
"A lot of the classes are focused on management and leadership. So I think that those two things you definitely take and use. Every institution wants leaders. I've definitely been able to utilize those skills.
"I've been on some committees where I have definitely been able to implement some of the things I've learned from the classes. The assessment classes help sharpen your skills a little bit on the patient assessments that you do."
Have Degree, Will Travel
Despite being a busy, full-time nurse at MD Anderson and a student in an online degree program, Davis still makes time for travel and wedding planning.
She and her fiancé, Dr. Ramandeep Kahlon, tend to blend business and pleasure when it comes to their travels.
"He's a physician, so he goes to a lot of conferences; sometimes I'll tag along, especially if he's speaking," she said. "It's work, but also kind of like a vacation. While he's in his conference, I'll stay in the hotel room and work on my courses. I've definitely completed a lot of school work on the road. It's been very helpful to be able to do that.
"We were in Mexico City in February, and I was taking a class but still able to get my schoolwork done."
Davis says she values travel because she was homeschooled as a child, which allowed her family more flexibility to take trips together.
"My parents took us all over America," she said. "It was wonderful and has even helped me in my career, because travel is knowledge."
Life Happens, but Keep Going
Davis has also been able to take time away from the online RN to MSN program when needed. If she needs a break from classes, she has the flexibility to do so.
"I lost a sister while I was in the program, so I had to take a pause," she explained. "With any other program, I would have had to quit. During my LVN program, one of my best friends lost a baby and had to go back to class two days later. She had to or she would be kicked out of the program.
"Unfortunately sometimes these things happen, but online helps you keep going. UTA does a lot to make sure that you're getting the most education that you can. The professors are very accessible. They're really good about responding to you."
As someone who has faced some loss and challenges while working toward an education, Davis knows it can be difficult to keep going sometimes, but encourages others to take the step toward the BSN — or beyond.
Learn more about the UTA online RN to MSN – FNP program.
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