Keondra Rustan, RN, MSN, PhD(c), visiting assistant professor at Linfield College in Portland, OR, has overcome many challenges in her decade-long career as a nurse and nurse educator. Raised in a single-parent home with limited resources, she discovered how she could channel her interest in science into a nursing career by reaching out to mentors along the way.
Today, she shares her story and offers advice to other minority nursing students and nurses who may face similar challenges in their education and careers.
How long have you been in the nursing field and what has been your career history until now?
I have been a nurse for nine and a half years. I started out working in cardiac health care in Virginia. I did cardiac stepdown, some cath lab work, and I floated to some cardiac ICUs. I then went to the ICU where I learned a great deal and developed some professionalism and leadership traits. I then went on to become an assistant manager of an ICU and IMCU. I finished my master’s degree and became a professor at a private college where I rediscovered simulation and developed a great love for it. I became the simulation lab coordinator and for a time was the interim director of the LPN program, and went on to become the assistant director of the LPN program so that I could make more time for my doctoral schooling.
I am currently working in the dissertation phase of my doctoral program and enjoying my work at Linfield College as a visiting assistant professor working in simulation as lead faculty.
What inspired you to enter the nursing profession?
At first I didn’t want to be a nurse. I went through all of my primary schooling without having the decision of wanting to be a nurse. I wanted to be a scientist at first like those scientists in Jurassic Park.
Later on in high school I decided that I wanted to be a scientist that could help cure diseases and study microbes. However, I lost my grandmother when I was in high school and some of the care that she received wasn’t the best and lacked empathy. I decided that I wanted to help people more directly and show them that they aren’t just a room number but a thriving person who was deserving of care. I wanted to be a person who made a difference in the lives of others.
As nurses we often aren’t remembered individually; but if a patient has less exacerbations and starts feeling better because of your care and the education that you provided, it is very rewarding.
What inspired you to become a nurse educator?
I discovered that I liked teaching by precepting new nurses and nursing students. I enjoyed seeing the potential in them. I loved teaching them how to do things based on evidence and why it was so important for it to be done that way. I wanted to show them how to provide holistic care to patients and help them grow into future leaders.
I also enjoyed telling them stories so they could directly apply the teachings to their practice. Most importantly, I wanted them to have things I did not have prior to becoming a nurse: resources and a mentor. I wanted to apply these principles on a broader and larger scale so I went into the field of nurse education.
I would say the first year or so I was not very good at it. Or at least I did not feel as though I was a good teacher. I did not have a mentor or anyone to show me the ropes so I just taught them the way I was thought, which did not work.
What challenges have you faced in your career and how have you overcome them?
In my career my biggest challenges have come from lack of resources and lack of mentors. I grew up in a low-income single parent home with no vehicle. We did not have the funding or access to resources to get informed about career programs while in high school or even most scholarships. I wasn’t aggressive enough in thinking of my future and did not have enough drive when I was younger to seek those resources.
Once I decided to become a nurse, I didn’t really know how to become one, what nurses actually did, and what type of nurse I wanted to be (even when I graduated I still did not know that part). I had a lot of ideas, but I did not know how to bring them into fruition.
I overcame the lack of resources and lack of mentoring by joining organizations (good old-fashion Google search) based on my interests. When I was obtaining my BSN I got accepted into Sigma Theta Tau (the nursing honor society). Going to those conferences really opened a lot of doors for me. I am so grateful for the aid of the nurses and educators that I have met throughout my nursing career. They were able to point me into a lot of great directions. I am still growing and have a great deal more that I want to accomplish.
What challenges do you see minority nursing students face and what is your advice for them?
I see lack of resources as a big one and lack of mentors. Minority students (and I include males in this) have a high risk of falling through the cracks in nursing school. There seems to be a reluctance to seek aid when dealing with difficulties. It is hard to get over, because typically it is culturally ingrained.
My advice is to seek help right away when you are having trouble. If your school does not assign faculty mentors, seek out an instructor that you feel you can connect with. Shadow a nurse if you are not experienced with the duties of a nurse, so you have an idea of if it is right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; if you do not understand, seek help (think of the patient’s safety).
Most nursing schools have scholarships, open labs, writing labs, and tutors available for their students; make use of these resources and give yourself support. View any setback as a learning opportunity and grow from the experience. Never stop learning even after you are licensed and working on the floor. Google search some nursing organizations (you can even join some as a student for a cheaper price) and they can lead you down some interesting paths. Also, once you obtain your knowledge, pass it on. You never know who you will be helping with your expertise and experience.
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
I see myself with at least 10 articles published and maybe a book, of course having obtained my PhD. I want to still be educating nursing students and maybe have obtained my NP. I want to continue to learn and grow each day to become the best educator that I can be. I want to do more in community and be a greater help to those in need.
New student orientation at most colleges and universities starts within the next six weeks, and for new nursing students, the prospect is both exciting and daunting.
How can you make the transition to nursing school easier? Here are five tips.
1. Get to Know Your School
Follow your new school’s social channels. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn offer excellent insights into what your school is all about, and they’ll probably even share tips that will help you. Check out the campus maps online, and take a virtual tour, so you’ll know where all the buildings are, where you might grab a bite to eat, and where you’ll find your classes and the gym.
2. Learn About the Area
Your campus might seem like a bubble, but it probably is an integral part of the wider community. Whether your school is in an urban center or a rural outpost, find out about the neighborhood. What’s around the school? How are students helping out in the community? Are there places that seem safer than others? Look at the local Chamber of Commerce to find out about nearby attractions and things to do.
3. Find Our About Your Courses
Nursing often has one of the most structured curriculum plans in any school. With so many required courses, it’s good to have an idea of what you’ll need to graduate. The school’s course catalog (often found online) is an excellent resource. Here, you’ll find out about the faculty in your department, the required courses and credits for your degree, and the course descriptions. If you know this, you’ll have a good idea of what your college courses should look like, and you’ll be less likely to be surprised by any forgotten requirements.
4. Meet People
Host or go to a gathering of students in your area. Join a Facebook group for your class and any of the clubs you’re interested in. Talk to your roommate in one way or another. If you are close enough, take a trip to campus to walk around and talk with people. Once you get to campus, you’ll be glad to meet up with familiar people.
5. Get Excited
Yes, this is like stepping into the big unknown. But, it’s also the start of a journey that will take you to one of the most rewarding careers possible. You’ll have successes and failures, and you’ll learn different things from both. Start envisioning this new path and welcome the changes it will bring.
Many working adults dream of becoming a nurse. They want a nursing career but aren’t sure how to juggle working and the demands of nursing school.
If this is you, don’t give up on the idea of becoming a nurse. Completing an associate of science in nursing (ASN) degree is often a more flexible and less expensive option. ASN programs typically only take two to three years to complete at community colleges. Another benefit is that community college tuition is a fraction of the cost of a four-year university. Earning your ASN is a smart way to start a nursing career.
Here are some tips for juggling work with an ASN program:
1. Focus on Completing Your General Education Courses First
You will need to complete your general education classes before you start working on your nursing coursework. These general education requirements include classes such as composition and anatomy.
The good news is that these classes are often offered online or in person at numerous times during the day and evening hours which offers students maximum flexibility to complete them.
Focus on getting these courses complete and you’re much closer to your dream of nursing school.
2. Find a Flexible Job
Depending on the structure of your associates degree program, having a flexible job while you’re in school will offer you less stress in scheduling your classes and clinicals.
Some aspiring nurses manage to work a traditional day shift job and attend evening, weekend, and online classes.
Whatever your work situation, be sure to talk to your employer early in your nursing program to see if they are willing to work with your school and/or clinical schedule. You may be able to take a planned leave of absence or change your work hours to accommodate school.
3. Set Your Priorities
Once you’re in school you simply will not have as much time for other activities. If you have children, you will have to manage even more demands.
Let go of everything that isn’t a top priority including social and volunteer activities. The less you have on your plate while in nursing school, the more time you have to devote to family, work, and studying.
Working and going to nursing school takes a lot of hard work and dedication. But in the end, you’ll be well on your way to a rewarding nursing career.
Like many minority nurses, Jackie F. Webb, DNP, FNP-BC, RN, associate professor at Linfield College School of Nursing in Portland, Oregon, had to overcome many challenges on her career path to becoming a family nurse practitioner.
Webb is the daughter of immigrants to the United States and is a first-generation college graduate. Her parents worked hard to provide for their family and instilled the importance of going to college. It wasn’t until Webb got a job in a nursing home that she set her sights on becoming a nurse.
“I did not start out college knowing I wanted to be a nurse,” says Webb. “It was the experience of working in a nursing home and meeting an incredible nurse who exposed me to the challenges of nursing that convinced me to major in nursing. Looking back, I realize the time this nurse took to help me see the power and art of nursing, and her support is what gave me the belief I, too, could be a nurse.”
Webb initially thought she wanted to work as a critical care nurse, but soon realized she was most interested in preventing patients from ever needing a critical care unit.
“Working as a public health nurse opened my eyes to the challenges of seeing patients in their own homes, without fancy equipment but my stethoscope and a BP cuff, and my ability to really listen and take a thorough health history.”
This experience motivated Webb to go to graduate school and become a nurse practitioner where she learned how to manage chronic illnesses and how to incorporate cultural beliefs into the patient’s management plans. She has been a family nurse practitioner for more than 30 years.
Like many minority nurses, along the way Webb had several challenges to overcome.
“Not having role models, not having parents who knew how to navigate the world of college applications, finances, scholarships, etc. Additional challenges for me included not having good writing skills, not having a rich vocabulary, and not having experiences like so many of my friends. My parents didn’t take vacations, they didn’t belong to book clubs, they didn’t have dinner parties nor did they have their brothers and sisters or any family member close by. They both had to work long hours to afford a roof over our head. The isolation of being a first-generation immigrant was at times difficult.”
Webb believes that there are ways for colleges and universities to help immigrant and first-generation college students overcome the unique challenges they face.
“Colleges and universities who work with immigrant students and/or first-generation college students need to know that these students are for the most part willing to work harder than any other student population,” says Webb. “For some they see how hard their parents work to just keep food on the table, they don’t take anything for granted. These students are grateful for any type of assistance and will overcome amazing barriers to obtain their college degrees. Many of these students end up inspiring other students and take on challenges many students are fearful to take. Many students value their college community and will take on various leadership roles.”
So what advice would Webb offer to minority nursing students today? “I would tell them to value their personal stories,” says Webb. “Value your history and that of your family. Be proud of the hard work your family has gone through to get to where you are now. The passion, the self-reliance, and support students have will get them very far.
Webb also encourages minority students to reach out for support. “For many students of color they are the first to attend college. This is an incredible journey they are undertaking and they cannot do it alone,” says Webb. “It is so important that they find a mentor or advisor so they can feel comfortable asking how to navigate this new journey. Use every available resource so you are able to be successful. Don’t be afraid, embarrassed, or feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness. I believe it is absolutely the reverse: asking for help is a definite sign of strength as it shows you are ready to do the work.”
Does it ever seem like you just don’t have enough time in a day? Lots of us feel this way and it’s no wonder. With jobs, school, families, friends, community, and other obligations pressing at us, it seems like having a few extra minutes is a dream.
Maybe it’s not about needing more hours in a day, but using the hours you have in a more productive way. Using time management skills is important no matter how you spend your days, and it’s incredibly easy to lose time on the most mundane and routine things.
Time management is like managing a household budget. You have a certain amount of something and you need to be as economical as possible. You time is valuable, so you might as well find ways to use it that make you feel good. How can you squeeze more time out of your day? Time management helps you get and stay on track.
1. Figure Out How You Spend Your Time
For a whole week if you can (or even a few days if you can’t do a whole week) try to record how you spend your time. You have 24 hours each and every day. What are you doing with them? Use your phone, a notebook, even your desktop to try to track your time. What do you do when you get home from work? How much time do you spend on things you don’t really get value from? If you love your hour on Facebook every night, that’s valuable to you. If your hour on Facebook leaves you feeling like you wasted time, you probably should pay attention to that feeling. The next time you log in, set a timer for 10 minutes and then log off.
2. Analyze Your Hours
Look at the hours you have jotted down and try to figure out where you are losing time. Do you spend more time commuting than you realized? Did you have unexpected trips to the grocery store because you ran out of lettuce? Do you end up spending much more time than you ever realized waiting for your kids?
3. Figure Out What You Want to Change
You might feel like you don’t have time to cook, so you grab take out on the way home. But if you take a look at the extra time it takes to stop for dinner, you might find you can re-adjust your food prep and actually save yourself time (and money) in the long run. A rotisserie chicken and bagged salad takes minutes to turn into a filling and healthy dinner and you can pick it up during your normal grocery run. Are you picking up prescriptions for family members three times a week? Do you have no time to exercise because everything else gets in the way?
4. List Your Priorities
Time management experts often say that when you don’t have time for something, it’s just not a priority for you. And while that comment can feel sharp, it’s often true. When people are too busy to exercise, they are often just pushing their own needs to the bottom of the list. Very likely, if your partner, spouse, kids, or another family member asked you to do something that might chew up that time, you’d probably say yes. What’s important to you?
5. Set and Keep a Schedule
Planners work for a reason—they really help you organize your time and make more efficient use of what you have. Writing down what needs to get done each and every day is a great start, but to be especially efficient, write down when you will do it as well. Catching up on bills? Block off 30 minutes. Driving to work? Time it over several days, so you know your average. Where can you schedule a 30-minute walk or yoga session?
Understanding how you spend your time now helps you figure out where you are wasting time. That 45 minutes you spend waiting for your kids to come home from a friend’s house so you can take them to chess club is valuable time. You could easily lose hours a week in chunks of wasted time like that. If you could catch on bills while you are waiting or organize your mail pile, you’ll have freed up some time elsewhere to enjoy on things that are important to you.
Having a strong mentor and academic advisor can make a huge difference in the lives of undergraduate and graduate nursing students. Being that mentor is what motivates Ronald Hickman, PhD, RN, ACNP-BC, FNAP, FAAN, associate professor of nursing at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH.
Hickman has been honored with two esteemed awards for student mentorship at Case Western Reserve University: the John S. Diekhoff Award for Excellence in Graduate Mentoring, which is presented to four full-time faculty members who make exemplary contributions to the education and development of graduate students; and the J. Bruce Jackson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring, which celebrates faculty and staff who have guided a student in their academic and career paths; fostered the student’s long-term personal development; challenged the student to reflect, explore, and grow as an individual; and supported and/or facilitated the student’s goals and life choices.
“Mentoring has been a cornerstone approach to making a difference in the lives of undergraduate and graduate nursing students,” says Hickman. “The receipt of two of the university’s top honors for mentoring undergraduate and graduate students is a testament to my commitment to making sure that I pay it forward.”
Hickman says the mentorship he received across his undergraduate and graduate studies has been invaluable. “My mentors shared their lived experiences and lessons learned to help me avoid pitfalls and inspire me toward a career in academe. These honors highlight my commitment to mentoring and acknowledge the impact of effective mentorship on the lives of emerging leaders in nursing practice and research.”
However, nursing was not Hickman’s original career plan. “As an undergraduate student, I majored in biological sciences with the intention to attend medical school after graduation.”
He was not admitted to medical school, but upon reflection about potential career paths he decided to pursue nursing because it aligned with his personal philosophy of health. “Although nursing was not my first choice for a career, it was the right choice for me,” he says.
Hickman acknowledges that pursing a nursing career can be challenging for minorities.
“Many minority nurses are the first in their families to attend college and are standouts in their communities,” he says. “When entering the nursing profession, the academic preparation is challenging and, in most instances, the diversity of nursing faculty is often not representative. This can create situations where minority nurses do not wish to speak up and seek help when needed. Whether you are pursuing a nursing degree or transitioning to a new role in nursing, do not suffer in silence. Asking for assistance often facilitates your success and delivery of safe nursing care.”
Another key to success that Hickman recommends for minority nursing students is to find a strong mentor and strongly consider pursing a doctoral degree in nursing.
Hickman is truly paying it forward. “As a nurse educator, I am inspired daily by helping students develop as competent nurse clinicians and scientists,” he says. “Helping others achieve their goals is an invaluable and enduring experience for most educators. The opportunity to inspire and challenge future nurse leaders is a priceless reward.”
Hickman sees himself in a senior leadership position in a school or college of nursing in the future. “My aspiration to secure a senior leadership position aligns with my commitment to help an organization and its’ faculty achieve their goals and impact the health of Americans.”