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Perseverance Pays Off for Online Nursing Student Thomas Garrett

For Thomas Garrett, the toughest part of the University of Texas at Arlington Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing online program was reaching the starting line.

"I had applied at UTA a couple of times," he said. "I had family issues that came up, so I was not able to proceed into the program. I had gone all the way up to registering for classes, but I got in the way of myself."

Once things settled down in 2016, Garrett was eager to try to enroll again. He contacted the UTA nursing program to see where he stood.  

"I made one call that was just a shot in the dark to check on it," he said. "Within 15 minutes, I was registered for my first class."

The third time has been the charm for Garrett, a 53-year-old operating room orthopedic coordinator at Odessa (Texas) Medical Center Hospital. He is set to graduate from the online RN to BSN program in 2018, and then plans to enroll in the UTA Master of Science in Nursing -- Family Nurse Practitioner online program.

"I put a lot of thought into earning a BSN," he said. "Life just gets in the way sometimes. Life is not getting in the way this time."

Destined for Healthcare

It's no surprise Garrett became a nurse considering he was raised in a family that included many nurses and doctors. He graduated with an Associate of Nursing from Odessa College in 1996.

"My mom was a nurse, so she was part of that inspiration," he said. "I'm also married to a Registered Nurse [Kelli]. We met and fell in love in nursing school. We've been married for just 22 years."

Garrett, who was born in New Mexico, worked as a hospice nurse and in emergency rooms earlier in his career. He has worked at Odessa Medical Center Hospital for five years.

"A BSN seemed like a good career move," he said. "The Texas State Board wants 80 percent of the RNs to have their BSN by 2020, so I was fulfilling that requirement. I am also getting older. After I get my MSN Nurse Practitioner, I'd probably like to stay working in surgery. I like to be able to help people out in their time of need."

Another motivating factor for Garrett was to add more education to his vast experience, which will help his career.

"I have been passed over a couple of times at work because younger people had their bachelor's degree," he said. "They [employers] would rather have the degree than experience."

So when the time came for him to pursue his bachelor's degree, Garrett wanted a program he could work through quickly. And UTA offered one of the best completion times.

"I applied to a couple of other schools, and when I saw what it was going to take for the requirements for the prerequisites, it was amazing how easy it was to drop into the program at UTA and get started," he said. "It was four prerequisites, with my associate degree, plus the 10 classes for the BSN. It was almost as many classes for the BSN programs at other schools as it would be for me to get my master's at UTA."

Student, Teacher

In addition to a schedule filled with work and school obligations, Garrett and his wife also homeschool their children.

"The online format has worked out very well," he said. "I've got six children -- one is in college, one is grown. I'm a very busy man with school, work and family. It works very well with my schedule."

His oldest son is interested in keeping the family tradition alive with a career in healthcare. He is taking prerequisites at Odessa College and hopes to become a physician assistant.

"He's enrolled as a full-time student at the college," Garrett said. "He's doing very well. It's the first time for him to attend public school. He enjoys it and is having a great time."

Garrett said his family has given him lots of support to help accommodate his hectic schedule.

"I've been wanting a bachelor's degree for a long time, but it's something I had just put on the back burner with kids and family," he said. "Now, I'm taking the time and the money to do it. They're all excited."

Staying Focused

With a limited amount of time to work on school, Garrett likes how the flexibility of the online program allows for a consistent study schedule.

"I work Monday through Friday, so I can only devote about two hours a night during the weekdays," he said.  "I try to devote a few extra hours on Sunday, if I can."

He has also been very pleased with the knowledge he has gained through the curriculum. His favorite class to date is NURS 3352: Legacy of the Family.

"I'm so focused on my family, because I've got a lot of time and pressure, that I really haven't paid a lot of attention to other cultures and family settings," he said. "It was nice to see how other people raise their families. All of the information in the RN to BSN program has been very applicable to work."

Now that he can see the finish line, the "adopted Texan" has a little bit of advice for anybody who is considering enrollment in the RN to BSN online program:

"I would say if they really want it and it's a goal of theirs, it takes a lot to start, but once you get in you'll be surprised at how smooth it is."

Learn more about the UTA online RN to BSN program.

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