Talk about a good problem to have.
Kelly Ward’s nursing career advanced to a point where she had to play catch up. She did just that by consecutively earning an RN to BSN and a Master of Science in Nursing in Nursing Administration online from the University of Texas at Arlington.
“The progression in my career was unbalanced with my formal education training,” Ward said. “I became a director for the emergency department at the facility where I was working. I needed to go back to school because an associate degree didn’t meet the requirement of the job description.
“I knew that to progress any more, I just had to bite the bullet and go all the way through and get my master’s degree. I hope to continue my growth as a nursing leader to impact those that I serve.”
Ward is Senior Administrative Director of Nursing at Memorial Hermann Health System in the Houston area. She has been in that position since December 2015 after serving as Administrative Director of Nursing since 2012.
“My master’s program prepared me to obtain an additional certification as a board certified nursing executive (NEA-BC) and I also received a graduate certificate as a nursing educator,” she said.
One of Ward’s friends, Kaitlin Dingee, recommended the UT Arlington online program.
“She got the same master’s degree I did, and now she is a nurse practitioner,” Ward said. “She gave me all of her hand-me-down books. She was the first person who really encouraged me and told me I could do it. That was probably the first time I heard of the program. I hear about it all of the time now. I know a lot of people who are in it, and I have referred a lot of my friends to it.”
Ward got plenty of encouragement as she earned back-to-back online degrees, beginning in 2011 and culminating in 2016.
“My entire family was really supportive,” she said. “My husband, Michael, would have me go to school all of the time, if he could. He understood that investing in my education would ultimately result in more earning potential. My husband never went to college and liked watching me progress. I helped him see that it’s never too late. He is currently considering his own educational opportunities.”
Caregiver From the Start
At a very early age, Ward knew she wanted to provide care and comfort for others.
“I grew up taking care of other people because I had a sister who had special needs,” she said. “So, it was really just second nature for me. I always knew that I wanted to be a nurse.
“My mom always wanted to be a nurse, so that was a direction I always knew I was going to go in. She wasn’t able to become a nurse because her devotion of caring for my sister prevented her from being able to fulfill that dream. I learned patience, compassion and selflessness from her. Caring was just in her nature. It just seemed natural to me, too.”
Ward earned an associate degree in nursing from Galveston College in 2001 while working as an emergency medical technician. She started her nursing career as an emergency room registered nurse at St. Joseph Medical Center in Houston, where she worked for four years. She then worked for HCA Hospital in various roles for three years before moving on to Memorial Hermann Health System in 2007.
“In both programs, I was able to apply what I was learning to my job,” she said. “At the end of the BSN, I was just baffled by how much content was in the courses that I didn’t know because I had been a nurse for a long time.”
Ward was able to get both of her online degrees from UT Arlington while working full-time and helping raise four kids — a son, Blake (6) and three daughters, Kinsey (9), Taylor (17) and Chelsie (18).
She said her schedule was fairly stable throughout the process.
“I don’t know if it’s fortunate or unfortunate, but I was working five days a week,” Ward said. “Really, it was like going back to nursing school the first time. My whole weekend was dedicated to schoolwork. For me, online education was the only option I had, since I had a Monday-through-Friday job with young children. Really, I couldn’t have asked for an easier way to go back to school. It really was great.”
Ward said the biggest hurdle she faced was the non-nursing courses in the program.
“Already being a professional, the nursing courses reinforced much of what I had already learned on the job, the academic courses on the other hand really made me dig deep,” she explained. “Those were the most difficult for me. They were really hard because I wasn’t an expert in math or English. It had been over ten years since I had taken an academic course. Although they were tough, once I got through my basics, my confidence level soared.”
The MSN course Ward ended up enjoying the most was Nursing and Healthcare Policy, which she had to stop and start again.
“The very first time I took it, it was structured a little bit differently and there was an assignment due within three days of the course starting,” she said. “I missed it. And this course was very strict. You couldn’t turn anything in late. So, the second time I took it, I knew it was going to be really challenging but knew what to expect. It turned out to be one of my favorite courses. I also really enjoyed the leadership courses in the master’s program.”
Ward said the biggest key to returning to school is taking the initiative.
“You just have to start somewhere,” she said. “We give ourselves all kind of excuses, like we’re going to wait until our kids are older or we have an easier work schedule, or something happens in our life to make it easier. But, nothing ever makes it easier. I had a few bumps in the road along my path including the death of my mother. Life happens and you have to prepare yourself to keep up with it. School is intimidating at first because you don’t know what to expect — especially for people who have been out of college for several years. But it’s definitely worth it.”
Additionally, Ward was happy she could set an example for her kids.
“I’m glad they got to see me going to school,” she said. “I have teenagers, and one of them [Chelsie] wants to do exactly what I do. She talks to me all of the time about how to get there. She’s a senior this year. She’s going to be starting college. I’m glad they experienced that busyness I had when I was in school because they understand it was very important.”