Adrienne Villarreal’s drive helped lead her into nursing administration. Her passion helped lead her back to the bedside.
“When I initially started the MSN Nursing Administration program, I was a director of nursing,” she said. “After one year, I went back to the bedside so I could focus more on school. When I went back, I told myself, ‘You know, this is actually where I want to be. I want to be on the proactive side of healthcare versus the reactive side. I want to get back to empowering patients and improving their healthcare.’”
So, Villarreal switched gears and enrolled in the online Master of Science in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner program at the University of Texas at Arlington. Less than two months after she graduated in May 2017, she landed a job with Med Care Associates in her hometown of San Antonio.
“A physician I had worked with said, ‘You know, it’s hard sometimes hiring people for these roles. If you went back to school, we’d hire you,’” she said. “At the time I thought, ‘Wow, okay. Thanks.’ I wasn’t even thinking that’s what I was going to do in the future. It was one of the things that propelled me to go back to school.”
Now that the mother of three knows she is right where she is supposed to be in her career, Villarreal is excited about the future.
“Even though I’m in family practice, I’ve always leaned more toward the adult side — that’s my comfort zone,” she said. “Here in South Texas, I really want to empower my patients to take a more active approach in their healthcare, just to be able to realize the power is in their hands. Giving them back that power is kind of my goal. I have so many family members who are diabetics. I want to help attack the diabetes and obesity problem we’re facing in our country.”
Villarreal learned about the UTA nursing program through her job at Methodist Healthcare System. It was the flexibility of the online format that sold her on becoming a Maverick.
“There is absolutely no way I would have been able to go back to get my master’s without an online, accelerated program,” she said. “It wouldn’t have happened. For me, the flexibility of being able to study whenever I needed to, after I put the kids to bed, and not having to worry about being in a classroom setting was one of the big reasons why I picked UTA.”
Villarreal also had some experience with online education. She took a handful of courses online while she earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Wayland Baptist University. Even though the master’s degree program added more to her hectic schedule, she’s glad she stuck with it.
“There were nights where I wouldn’t go to sleep,” she said. “I would be up until 5 o’clock in the morning. I’d take a little nap and get on with the day. I have a very supportive spouse [Manuel]. Plus, family members and friends pitched in sometimes so I could get things done.
“Fortunately, being an RN at the bedside, you’re looking at three days a week. This last semester I dropped down to part-time — and even with the part-time I was putting in seven days a week (five days in clinic, two days on the weekends at my regular job). It was three months, so I sucked it up. It was a relief to be finished.”
Villarreal also gave birth to her third child, Tobias, while she was enrolled in the master’s program. Her other two children are Diego (10) and Sophia (7).
“He was not planned, and I actually went into heart failure when I had him,” she said of Tobias. “It was pretty tough. I took a spring semester off after that, because I was scheduled to start the clinical rotation. It just wasn’t going to happen with a one-week-old at home.”
She did not miss a beat. After a semester off, Villarreal got right back to work.
“I felt like my teachers were very supportive and understanding,” she said. “I really didn’t have any lack of support. They always gave me great responses. I always felt really good about it.”
Villarreal said all of the courses in the online MSN Family Nurse Practitioner program were applicable to her day-to-day work. Her favorite course was NURS 5334: Advanced Pharmacology.
“I learned a lot,” she said. “I really felt like the text was very informative. In fact, I use that in other courses, as well. It helped explain so much in understanding how the medications work. By doing that, it explains how the body works and how the two interact together.”
Once she returned to school from the semester off, Villarreal also enjoyed the clinical rotations.
“They really do prepare you for practice,” she said. “That’s where you really think, ‘Okay, I can do this.’ The master’s degree has helped me so much. Even in my bedside job, I’m the go-to person. They think I know everything, even if I don’t. But you learn so much. You really do.”
Villarreal said she was glad she made the trip to Arlington for graduation.
“It was one of my proudest moments,” she said. “Going to graduation made it a reality that I had finally accomplished a goal that at one point in my life was a just a far off dream. It was the most emotional feeling to see my family there to support me. And keeping in touch with my peers has been great in helping us support each other as we start our careers, just as we did in school. It’s like a little family and we watch out for each other.”
Villarreal didn’t have to look far for her inspiration to pursue both higher education and a nursing career.
“I always knew that I wanted to work for people and give back to the community,” she said. “My mother [Luz Fernandez] was the person who said, ‘You know, I think you should be a nurse. You have the nerve for it. You would do well, and that’s a field where you could give back.’ That really pushed me into healthcare.”
Her mother, who is a paralegal, and her stepfather (Raul Fernandez), who was a chief in a sheriff’s department, were both high school dropouts. But both of them went to college and earned degrees. In fact, Villarreal’s mother graduated with her from Wayland Baptist.
“We walked the stage together,” she said. “For me, that was a big deal. She always kind of pushed that. Education is very important to my parents.”
Villarreal hopes her children will follow in her footsteps when it comes to college. She also believes the online format is perfect for anybody who wants to balance school with work and their home life.
“If I worked through the program with three kids and did it, anybody can do it ,” Villarreal said. “I don’t think I’m exceptionally smart or anything like that. It’s doable. It will take work, and it will take effort. I’m glad that I made it. I’m glad I’m here, and I’m ready to move into my new profession. I’m excited.”
Learn more about the UTA online Master of Science in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner program.