Tracy King had never considered a career in nursing until she saw the scope and power of the profession.
"I was a morning deejay, which is a ridiculous transition into nursing," she said. "I always thought nursing was interesting but the curriculum scared me. I had two girlfriends from high school who went through a nursing program. I thought, 'That curriculum seems real. I'm going to stick to this radio stuff where we're having fun.'"
Then, along came Hurricane Katrina.
"After the storm, I did some volunteerism with radio broadcasting in south Mississippi and the New Orleans area," King said. "There were about 600 of us sleeping in a military hangar, and I was right beside a group of nurses. I always liked the idea of getting out there and that type of disaster response.
"I never knew nurses did that. To that point in my life, nurses had given me shots or medicine. I had never really been sick and hadn't had much interaction with the field of nursing. I thought, 'This is really cool these nurses are out here in the streets doing some gritty work.'"
Thirteen years later, King has 11 years of nursing experience and is near completion of the RN to BSN online degree program from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Once she graduates in summer 2018, she hopes to enroll in anesthesia school to become a nurse anesthetist.
"That's my only goal right now with the BSN," she said. "There is a chance I won't get into anesthesia school, but the degree will help me in multiple other ways if I end up going the practitioner route or into management."
King works as a flight nurse for Life Air Rescue, a helicopter medical provider based in Shreveport, Louisiana. She has been with the company for five years after gaining valuable experience in an intensive care unit and a cardiac catheterization lab.
"It's very exciting and super challenging," she said. "I am surrounded by the cream of the crop, and I learn a lot from them. It's a small field of very motivated people. When you're surrounded by motivated people, you get motivated or you get out. That's what started this BSN business."
King graduated with an Associate of Nursing from the former Our Lady of the Lake University (now Franciscan University) in New Orleans in 2007. The program was accelerated because she already had a bachelor's degree in radio, television and film from the University of Louisiana at Monroe. However, the RN to BSN degree program at UL Lafayette is King's first foray into online higher education.
"Online was intimidating at first because of the self-motivation, but you don't have a choice but keep up with this because it is so fast-paced," she said. "I can log in and get work done at whatever weird hour works best for me. I work 24-hour shifts in flight, so a normal sleep schedule doesn't exist."
That flexibility is especially important with two children, Finley (6) and Beau Bear (2), and a husband, Steven, who also works odd hours as a Shreveport firefighter.
"My support system is amazing," King said. "They're just working with me through this process. They're excited about the thought of me, hopefully, getting into anesthesia school. We know this is a step I have to take."
She is also impressed with the amount of assistance she has received from UL Lafayette.
"I would have liked to have known about the connectivity that you have with these academic coaches and teachers," King said. "I didn't even know there was such a thing as an academic coach.
"They've got a lot on their plate, but they're always accessible. They respond quickly. They provide videos and video lectures. They walk you through every step. I'm learning new ways to submit assignments via technology. I had never submitted YouTube assignments before, but they walk you through all of it, and it's really cool."
The More You Know
King chose the online RN to BSN degree program at UL Lafayette for a couple of reasons.
"The tuition price was listed on the website," she said. "I like the transparency of knowing how much this will cost me. They also worked really well with my prerequisites. I didn't have to take anything crazy or unexpected.
"I didn't have to have labs with my anatomies and physiologies because of my associate of nursing degree. Some of these courses require you to have a lab when you get a BSN, and I am not going back on campus to take a lab."
The insight and knowledge King has gained in the program is also impressive.
"I didn't know how much I was going to learn," she said. "I thought I was just going to have to do it and it was a rite of passage to get to anesthesia school. I was surprised a couple of times. It's not a cakewalk, but it's totally doable."
Her favorite courses so far are NURS 396: Professional Role Integration and NURS 421: Nursing Leadership and Management for RN to BSNs.
"The professional development aspect of this program is interesting and applicable to my stage in my flight career," she said. "I instantly started recognizing some of that terminology and some of the challenges in my work place, and then I have been applying those theories and practices," she said. "I'm surrounded by a lot of informal leaders and people who are doers.
"So, those courses have been interesting and very surprising to me. I've been a nurse for 11 years. I thought that I needed to pay the money and do what I needed to do to get a BSN. You're going to have knowledge, sometimes in ways that surprise you and in areas that you never gave thought to."
Although King loves her work, she hopes to parlay all of her nursing experience into a new challenge as a nurse anesthetist. She plans to apply to Texas Christian University (TCU) and Texas Wesleyan University, both of which offer anesthesia nursing programs in Shreveport.
"My current job absolutely was a big motivator, but working in the emergency department in the ICU sparked my interest in anesthesia," she said. "We intubate people. We put breathing tubes in people. We do a lot of sedation and paralytics, but I know anesthesia will take my knowledge well beyond the tiny bit I know about those critical procedures."
It was that diversity that helped King fall in love with nursing and build a successful career.
"I like the unexpected," she said. "I like the options with nursing. There are so many areas. I learn more every day about the areas of nursing. Being a nurse in the middle of a six-lane highway down on your hands and knees actually saving somebody's life -- that's the part of nursing that I love. I know nurses who like to assess a community and make these great observations about how to help a community. There's something for every personality."
One last thing: Steven King and B.B. King in the same family?
"My husband is not a horror movie fan -- he's a big chicken," she said. "We fought over our son's name. I wanted to name him Beau Bear. He said, 'My name is Steven King. We cannot have a child named B.B. King. 'Do I look like I'm going to make a child named Bear?' but I won so we have a B.B. King."
Learn more about the UL Lafayette online RN to BSN program.
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