Melyssa Johnson had plenty of excuses to delay enrolling in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing online program.
She didn’t use any of them.
“I began my RN to BSN at 31 weeks pregnant with a deployed husband while working full-time,” she said. “During maternity leave, I kept taking classes. Take a nap; do my homework. The flexibility is amazing. UL Lafayette allows students to obtain their degree while still managing everything else that goes on in life.”
Johnson is on track to graduate from the program in Fall 2018. She is a registered nurse at the Advanced Heart Failure Unit at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. Her husband, Darkel, is in the Navy, and the new parents have a six-month-old daughter, Kali.
“The BSN was definitely always in the plan,” Johnson said. “Both of my parents [JoEllen and Sherwood] are RNs at Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, California. They both have associate degrees, but they always told me the rules are changing at most hospitals, and everybody needs a BSN.
“They are grandfathered in to allow them to only have an ADN [Associate Degree in Nursing] because they have been practicing for so long,” Johnson said of her parents, though her father did go back for a BSN because he wanted to. “For me, I knew that it was going to be required.”
In addition to all Johnson had going on in her life, she relocated from California to Virginia after completing an Associate of Nursing on-campus degree program at Santa Ana College in 2016. Darkel was in Virginia, due to military relocation, for a year before she joined him.
Hearing about how her parents help others every day they go to work sparked an early interest in a nursing career for Johnson.
“It was probably when I was in seventh grade,” she said. “I’ve always been geared toward health and fitness. I was a personal trainer before I became a nurse … and I still am. Both careers kind of go hand in hand.”
Norfolk to Lafayette
After Johnson researched online RN to BSN programs, she chose UL Lafayette because of the affordable tuition.
“I compared prices to all of the other schools,” she said. “My dad received his BSN at another university and paid almost double what I am paying. The hospital where I am employed has its own college that offers BSNs, but I know a lot of the classes involve in-person requirements, group projects and all kinds of things I wasn’t interested in doing because my life is so chaotic already.”
The online format was exactly what the nurse ordered.
“It’s really personalized, and you can do anything whenever you want,” Johnson said. “Whether it’s two in the morning, five at night or at noon, you can do it anywhere. I wasn’t struggling. I’m able to do my homework.
“If I need to go to a Starbucks and do my homework so I can focus and be away from home, I can do that. When I have downtime at work, I can log in or do a little blog if I need to. It’s been what I expected. My friends and family are excited and definitely supportive.”
Her favorite course in the program so far is NURS 406: Evidence-Based Practice for RN to BSN.
“That was a great course,” Johnson said. “Everything about nursing is geared more toward research for better outcomes for patients, so that was really interesting to study.”
More to Come
After Johnson graduates from the RN to BSN program, she plans to enroll in a master’s degree program and become a family nurse practitioner.
“You have to get your master’s to do that,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot more hands-on. I’ll have more clinical hours. I won’t be able to work full-time. I’ll have 12-hour shifts as a student. I am going to have to wait until my husband is non-deployable before I can do that.”
In addition to working toward her ultimate career goal, Johnson had another really good reason to earn a bachelor’s degree.
“I can’t be a nurse practitioner without this step, but my employer requires all employees to have their bachelor’s within five years of employment,” she said. “I get to keep my job.”
The flexibility of the online program allows Johnson to grow her nursing career and still focus on work and motherhood. She spends an average of 15-20 hours per week on schoolwork.
“Your counselors are there for you, even if you are not physically talking to them,” Johnson said. “I was able to e-mail my counselor and tell her, ‘I’m not taking anything until mid-March, because my husband is deploying, I have a baby and we just bought a house. Also, instead of taking two classes, from now on I’m only going to take one at a time.’ It’s important to know that the program is flexible. Life happens.”
Now that her life is a little saner, Johnson looks forward to concentrating on school down the home stretch. With her ability to multitask, she is more than ready to meet the challenge.
“Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s going to be easier or less time-consuming than the associate degree,” she said. “It’s definitely equally as time-consuming, but you can go at your own pace.”
Learn more about the UL Lafayette online RN to BSN program.