Patricia Rittgers was given an ultimatum.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Rittgers moved to Dallas, Texas, to work as a nurse at Children’s Medical Center where she has been employed since 1998. A few years ago, Rittgers’ superiors challenged her to earn her BSN by 2020.
She did, and then she went one step further.
“Once I finished my bachelor’s, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what do I do with all this free time?'” she remembered. “My husband [George] said, ‘You always wanted to be a nurse practitioner, so just go ahead and get your master’s.’ So, I did.”
Rittgers graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington’s online Master of Science in Nursing Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program in August of 2019, only 18 months after she enrolled in it.
“I did the accelerated online master’s,” she explained. “They crammed a whole semester into five weeks. So you have to be extremely focused and dedicated to a time schedule.”
A resident of Fort Worth, Texas, Rittgers made the online program work with her nursing schedule by avoiding the heavy traffic that can plague her 32-mile commute.
“I would get up early and get to work before my shift and do homework,” she said. “I would avoid traffic that way, and I would stay late to do homework to avoid traffic in the evening. That way, I was not wasting time sitting in traffic.”
Rittgers also found a way to fold studying at home into family time.
“It’s kind of funny,” she said. “When my youngest son was still in high school, we would sit at the table together and do homework together.”
What Rittgers studied during her time in the MSN program was practical for her current and future career.
“I’ve been working with children in foster care for 15 years,” she said. “My goal is to stay in this clinic and help them at a higher level.”
Finding the Way
Rittgers’ decision to work with children came after several years of working in and around the medical field. Feeling limited by the options that her American Board of Opticianry certification afforded, she underwent training and gained some experience as a unit secretary before deciding whether to enroll in a program to become a certified nursing assistant or go straight to nursing school.
Shen then gave serious thought to becoming a nurse, but she had to overcome some negativity.
“Everybody said, ‘No, don’t go the nursing assistant route. You’ll never go to nursing school,'” she remembered. “I said, ‘Okay, I’ll just jump in.’ So, I just jumped in and went to nursing school when my oldest was still a baby.”
It didn’t take much for Rittgers to find her niche in the field of medicine.
“I always knew I wanted to work with kids because I don’t do well with older people,” she said with a laugh. “When you think about it, it’s a lot easier to change a diaper on a 7-month-old than it is on a 70-year-old, right?”
Rittgers’ Children’s Medical Center stint paved the way for her enrollment at UTA. It was at Children’s that Rittgers made contact with UTA representatives and faculty who sang the praises of the program at education fairs held on-site.
“UTA looked the most promising to me,” she said. “One of the instructors actually works for our clinic, and I talked to her about the program. After she explained a little bit more about the program, it seemed to fit my needs.”
Today, Rittgers feels prepared to step into her dream role thanks to the experience she gained in the MSN program.
Pediatrics in Practice
Rittgers used her time in the MSN program to build on her past knowledge and prepare for her future as a caregiver.
“I do care coordination for children in foster care,” she said. “I work with the insurance companies to make sure the children get the supplies that they need, the therapies that they need, and that their appointments are scheduled, including their behavioral health or psychological needs. I also work closely with the CPS liaison to make sure that there is not a break in the children’s care.”
One of Rittgers’ favorite classes in the MSN program was NURS 5334: Advanced Pharmacology for its coverage of the essentials of clinical pharmacological therapeutics for advanced nursing practice.
Rittgers would use the research techniques she learned in this class to add depth to the care she provided.
“A lot of times when I would do case scenarios, I would try to find a case that was similar to what was going on out in the clinic,” she explained. “From there, I would see if I could talk it through with one of the providers to make sure I was on the right track.”
Not only did the program inspire Rittgers’ confidence in approaching providers, the coursework also gave her a platform from which to educate others. Her presentation on vulnerable populations focused on children in foster care.
“I don’t think people see children in foster care as a vulnerable population. They don’t stand out as much as the pediatric [population] or the elderly because they don’t run around with a label on their head saying that they are in foster care,” she said.
Now that Rittgers has gained some experience in the profession of her choice, she could not be more grateful for the education she received at UTA.
“If you’re a busy person who needs to continue to work and do this degree, and you want to achieve it in a small amount of time, this program is excellent,” she said.
Learn more about UTA’s Master of Science in Nursing in Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner online program. UTA also offers an Acute Primary Care NP option online.